U-M Opens “City” for Self-Driving Cars

U-M Opens “City” for Self-Driving Cars

Mcity Track

On July 20, U-M opened Mcity, the world’s first controlled environment specifically designed to test the potential of connected and automated vehicle technologies that will lead the way to mass-market driverless cars.

Mcity is a 32-acre simulated urban and suburban environment located on U-M’s North Campus Research Center. The miniature city includes a five-mile network of roads—some up to five lanes—complete with intersections, roundabouts, roadway markings, and traffic signs and signals. The $6.5 million site also boasts sidewalks, bus facilities, benches, simulated buildings, streetlights, parked cars, robotic pedestrians, and obstacles like construction barriers.

U-M’s interdisciplinary Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) designed and developed Mcity. The MTC partnership includes U-M Transportation Research Institute, the College of Engineering, several automotive companies, and the Michigan Department of Transportation. It will support rigorous, repeatable testing of new technologies before they are tried out on public streets and highways to help prevent road accidents by relaying traffic and road conditions to cars and their drivers. In turn, researchers will be able to simulate realistic environments where connected and automated vehicles may face challenges. Even seemingly minor details a vehicle might encounter, such as road signs defaced by graffiti and faded lane markings, have been incorporated into Mcity.


“There are many challenges ahead as automated vehicles are increasingly deployed on real roadways,” said Peter Sweatman, director of MTC, which launched in 2013. “Mcity is a safe, controlled, and realistic environment where we are going to figure out how the incredible potential of connected and automated vehicles can be realized quickly, efficiently, and safely.”

MTC is looking beyond technology to make next-generation mobility a reality. The center brings together faculty and students from across U-M to explore the web of engineering, business, law, urban planning, policy, and social challenges that must be addressed.

“MTC and Mcity highlight the interdisciplinary strengths of U-M,” said University President Mark Schlissel. “The initiative also demonstrates the great potential in working with partners outside the University to address compelling issues of broad impact.”

Automated vehicles still face many challenges and years of development ahead. But it is projected that connected car technologies will likely be deployed in vehicles in about five years. 

Read more about Mcity in the spring 2015 issue of Michigan Alumnus.

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