MCity, which sprung up in an empty field a year ago like a Hollywood set, is where new technologies which are already radically reshaping the automotive industry must prove themselves before they make it to regular roads.
The 13-hectare (32-acre) site offers all the trappings of urban life, designed to reproduce the kinds of situations a self-driving car would encounter, like a child dashing into the street after a ball.
Traffic signals, street lights, cross walks, bicycle lanes, roundabouts, a railroad crossing, even construction: nothing has been left out of MCity’s design.
The Americana street names — Liberty Street, State Street, Main Street — and cheerful store fronts, bus stops, benches, mailboxes and garbage bins give MCity the appearance of a vibrant town.
But its cafes and restaurants are nothing but facades. Its inhabitants are a collection of data crunchers using cameras, radar, sonar and lasers.
For over a year, the faux town has served as a laboratory for testing the self-driving technologies of about a dozen companies, according to Jim Sayer, deployment director at the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“Generally speaking they are testing software and sensors: how the system responds in very specific scenarios that they set up,” Sayer told AFP.
The facility is able to set up a controlled experiment — for instance, how a tunnel or tree canopy might impact software. The test can be repeated time and time again while adjustments are made to sensors and software to improve performance.