The facility, which opened in July, has the look and feel of an ordinary American city block, complete with structures, curbs, and traffic lights. Such a proving ground, closed off from regular traffic, is expected to give Mcity partners the ability to repeat tests and fine-tune certain traffic scenarios.
"Testing Ford's autonomous vehicle fleet at Mcity provides another challenging, yet safe, urban environment to repeatedly check and hone these new technologies," said Raj Nair, Ford's group vice president of global product development. "This is an important step in making millions of people's lives better and improving their mobility."
The company's Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle made the maiden laps around the facility, which contains about five miles of roads, though Ford did not say when the first testing took place there. An Mcity spokesperson verified the company's Fusion was the first autonomous car tested on the roads.
"Mcity offers a unique, real-world test environment that will help Ford accelerate development of its autonomous technology."
It's hardly the first time Ford has tested autonomous cars. The company says it has tested autonomobiles for more than ten years, and the Fusion Hybrid debuted in 2013. Previous tests have included ventures on public roads in Michigan, which is one of four states that permits autonomous vehicle testing on public roads when certain conditions are met. Earlier this year, the company reached a milestone for the autonomous project, moving it from a research project to an advanced engineering phase.
Equipped with the front-facing cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors that comprise the brains of many driver-assist technologies already installed in production vehicles, the autonomous Fusion Hybrid adds four LiDAR sensors that generate a real-time 3D map of the vehicle's surrounding environment. At Mcity, which is part of the University of Michigan and pictured below, Ford says it can expand and enhance its testing.
"Mcity offers a unique, real-world test environment that will help Ford accelerate development of its autonomous technology while building on its existing research collaboration with the University of Michigan," said Peter Sweatman, director of the Mobility Transformation Center, of which Mcity is a part.
A public-private partnership funded by the University of Michigan, Michigan Department of Transportation and 16 companies who contributed $1 million a piece to become partners, Mcity can accommodate two companies testing on a given day. Member companies include OEMs like Ford, Toyota, General Motors and Nissan. Suppliers Delphi Auto, Robert Bosch, and DENSO Corporation are some of the others involved.
"This is an important step in making millions of people's lives better and improving their mobility."
Creating public-private partnerships to explore autonomous technology is becoming more common. Only Thursday, global automotive supplier Faurecia announced a partnership with Stanford University, in which it is exploring behavioral changes in autonomous cars. Among the areas they are looking at: the handoff between a human driver and autonomous technology, how the interior design of vehicles must change to help occupants read, work and eat, and how motion sickness might affect their ability to do so.
"In partnering with Faurecia, we are taking the industry's first steps toward anticipating and averting problems that autonomous-car drivers may encounter in their transition from active controllers to multi-tasking occupants," said David Sirkin, of the Stanford Center for Design Research. "While the industry often considers the new technologies required to keep autonomous cars safely on course, these physiological issues will require their own approaches to vehicle design and engineering."
Both Faurecia and Stanford officials are expected to address the partnership further next week at the Los Angeles Auto Show.