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Mcity: the city with no drivers

A high-tech, open-air urban simulation environment for automated car tests

It’s very quiet in Mcity. The only sound you will hear is that of automated cars driving around. Mcity, in fact, is 13-hectare true mock town, a technology-laden facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan where driverless cars are being tested.

Testing new technology in a realistic environment is an essential step before automated vehicles can be safely deployed on our roads. Working with the Michigan Department of Transportation, researchers at the University of Michigan have designed Mcity, a unique test facility for evaluating the capabilities of connected and automated vehicles and systems.

“A complex urban environment is always the most challenging for automated vehicles,” explains Peter Sweatman, Director of the Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) at the University of Michigan. “We wanted to create the ultimate testing environment for that situation.”

Since Mcity opened in July 2015, various major car manufacturers have begun running tests at the facility that replicates all the features that one would expect to find in a city, including roundabouts, pedestrian crossings, intersections, a stretch of motorway, and even a pedestrian robot walking around. The town’s roads are even fitted with fire hydrants, parking meters and speed limit signs, which will eventually be used by the automated vehicles to automatically adjust their speed as required.

Sensors are everywhere and allow constant monitoring and data acquisition on the movement and behaviour of the automated cars. In fact, Sweatman illustrates how a simulated tree canopy has been developed to replicate the moisture trapped in trees that can block GPS signals. “We’ve created a netting structure where we can produce a variable moisture content through a system of capillaries. That’s a completely unique test.” Moreover, Mcity also provides a signal-blocking tunnel and a railway crossing and a metal bridge created to interfere with the radar detection of horizontal surfaces. Mcity provides testing for just about any issue that may concern automated cars.

“We hope that the scenarios we create in Mcity will form the basis for the regulatory standards that are going to apply to driverless vehicles,” says Sweatman. “Our ultimate goal is to set up a service with a couple of thousand automated vehicles for people in Ann Arbor to use as a new kind of on-demand mobility service.”

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