A self-driving car is only as smart as the sensors telling it how and where to drive. In this vein, Michigan is making good on its commitment to automotive innovation: The state DOT is laying the foundational infrastructure necessary for driverless cars to function.
According to a recent report, the MDOT has started installing a network of 115 sensors along 125 miles of highway primarily in southeast Michigan to test how driverless vehicles will react to such hazards as red traffic lights, icy roads, work zones and lane closures.
The vehicle-to-infrastructure sensors track a vehicle's speed and location, and can send signals alerting the vehicle of any incoming obstacles or dangerous road conditions.
Despite the advantages of such a system, the price point of the sensors — between $5,000 to $6,000 — has been a point of friction for many critics. Much of the funding thus far has come from federal sources, but transportation officials are working to find out how to continue funding the development.
"We're pretty confident that there are business models out there to help offset or drastically reduce the amount of public transportation resources needed to put ... these systems into place," said Matt Smith, MDOT's intelligent transportation systems program administrator, who also expressed his desire for partnerships between government and the private sector, such as data service providers and developers of commercial applications.
For autonomous vehicles to drive the highways of America, millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements will need to be made. Along with the long-neglected general road repairs, cybersecurity protections, mapping and geospatial services, and a data center to send and receive signals from vehicles will also be necessary. And all of these system improvements will take capital — a lot of it.