University of Michigan’s Mcity gets $5M to expand access, enable remote autonomous vehicle testing

The University of Michigan's Mcity autonomous vehicle testing site (Photo: University of MIchigan)

ANN ARBOR – University of Michigan’s autonomous vehicle technology testing facility has received $5.1 million from the National Science Foundation to enable remote access to the public-private mobility partnership.

“Mcity 2.0″ will allow researchers across the U.S. to access the state-of-the-art facility remotely, making the mobility playing field more equitable, said U-M in a release.

Mcity will generate real-world datasets by adding virtual reality software, allowing researchers to take advantage of tailor-made simulation scenarios. Mcity 2.0 will be available for public use, and officials say institutions and academic researchers lacking their own vehicles and testing facilities will benefit the most from the new offerings.

“The new digital infrastructure combining real-world data sets with high-quality simulation capabilities and a physical test track will set Mcity apart from other AV test facilities, and enable remote use,” professor of civil and environmental engineering at U-M and director of Mcity Henry Liu said in a statement.

“The proliferation of AVs and connected vehicles will create a safer travel environment, and by making this next generation version of Mcity available to a wider range of researchers, we believe we can help accelerate adoption.”

According to U-M, AV research efforts are often limited due to a lack of access to physical testing facilities, high-quality simulation environments and real-world data. Mcity 2.0 will be able to offer all of these by bringing digital infrastructure to its facility.

Read: U-M receives nearly $20M to equip Ann Arbor with ‘smart intersections’

“Since its launch in 2015, Mcity has solidified the University of Michigan as a global leader in driving the future of mobility,” said U-M’s Dean of Engineering Alec D. Gallimore. “This investment will increase access to the state-of-the-art test facility, providing more equity to researchers across the country who are on the forefront of this societal shift, navigating the transition to a new world of safer, greener, more equitable and accessible mobility for all.”

Mcity collects real-world data sets from a series of smart intersections in Detroit and Ann Arbor. Privacy-preserving sensors capture every single motion -- whether it be vehicle or human -- at each intersection and each road user is categorized with their direction and speeds identified. This information can then be sent in real-time to connected vehicles in the immediate area.

U-M’s Transportation Research Institute has been collecting data from vehicles and their environments for a decade in Ann Arbor. The project was once the world’s largest connected vehicle deployment with nearly 3,000 vehicles involved.

“These projects provided evidence that connected vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce crashes by 80%, where driver impairment is not a factor,” reads an Mcity release.

“NSF invests in a broad array of fundamental research and new technologies for smart transportation, ranging from semiconductors and microelectronics to wireless communication, contactless electric vehicle charging and artificial intelligence,” NSF assistant director for engineering Susan Margulies said in a statement. “Testing these vehicle technologies in real-world scenarios is an essential step for transferring innovations to businesses, communities and drivers.”