Michigan's Test Pad for Connected, Autonomous Vehicles Breaks Ground

Known as Willow Run, the test pad should open for business in late 2017.

by Matthew Dolan, Detroit Free Press / November 23, 2016

(TNS) -- A testing ground for connected and autonomous vehicles should open for business late next year as Michigan seeks to retain its leading role in advanced auto industry technology, officials said at a ground-breaking ceremony today.

Gov. Rick Snyder joined state officials and automotive-technology leaders to celebrate the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run in Ypsilanti Township.

“Michigan is reinventing the way the world moves," Snyder said in a statement. "We are second-to-none when it comes to automotive and technological innovation, and we remain committed to making sure that stays true for generations to come."

The ceremony comes after the state Legislature gave final approval this month to a package of four bills that allows for testing driverless cars in the state. The governor is expected to sign the bills.

The bills approve testing of the new technology on 122 miles of roads and open the way for the mobility center to redevelop the old Willow Run airport for autonomous-vehicle testing and research.

One of the bills ends a requirement that a human be inside a driverless car ready to take over if needed. Those driverless cars, used mainly by ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft, would have to be monitored by an individual who wouldn’t have to be inside the vehicle.

Besides Michigan, states including Florida, Nevada, Arizona and California are positioning themselves as hubs for the research and development of self-driving vehicles. Uber and Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania have made Pittsburgh another key venue for autonomous mobility.

A year ago, Mcity, a 32-acre simulated city and testing facility, opened on the University of Michigan's North Campus, where automakers, suppliers and telecommunications companies are testing autonomous vehicle systems in a controlled environment.

Toyota, along with General Motors, Ford, Nissan and Honda, is a founding partner in U-M's Mobility Transformation Center, which oversees Mcity.

In July, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. approved the $1.2-million purchase of 311 acres for the American Center for Mobility on the site of the former World War II Willow Run bomber plant. The center will be used to test vehicles that can talk to one another and drive on their own.

John Maddox, president and CEO of the center, said in an interview Monday that the first phase of the project should open by December 2017, enabling auto manufacturers and others to use the facility's simulated highway test loop.

©2016 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.