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A simulated city for self-driving cars

Researchers want to test and improve driverless cars By ,

Self-driving cars still have ways to go before they’re 100% ready to face real-world traffic, but now they can train in a 32-acre simulated city north of the University of Michigan, Bloomberg reports. Researchers will get a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses as they prepare to hit public roads.

Peter Sweatman, the head of the Transportation Research Institute who oversaw the creation of the so-called “M City” test facility, believes driverless cars that move in harmony may become essential to keep people and goods flowing safely and efficiently. 

“After all, we’re replacing humans with machines and those machines need to be able to operate in a full, rich environment,” said Sweatman, who is also director of the Mobility Transformation Center, formed by academic, government and corporate sponsors such as General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda.

M City is a mini-metropolis replica with traffic jams and unpredictable pedestrians, suburban streetscapes, highways and country roads. It cost $10 million USD to build, and features 40 building facades, a bridge, a tunnel, some intersections and a traffic circle, as well as paved and gravel roads. The four-lane highway has entrance and exit ramps. 

A small number of automakers have already begun testing their self-driving cars on closed circuits or controlled sections of road in some U.S. states. GM, Ford, and Toyota gained top priority at this simulated city because they are paying $1 million over three years, Sweatman said. Affiliate sponsors, who pay $150,000 over three years, come next. 

Google, which has its own driverless prototype, is not a sponsor of M City yet. Sweatman confirmed the tech giant has previously inquired about testing opportunities at M City and would be welcome there.
Based on a report by the Boston Consulting Group, the self-driving car market could reach $42 billion USD by 2025 and account for 25% of all vehicles sold by 2035. Just two years from now, though, these vehicles will be able to park, change lanes, and drive all by themselves on public roads.