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University of Michigan builds mini city to test driverless vehicles

32-acre plot on North Campus will be operational this spring

M-City in Ann Arbor (MTC UMich)
M-City in Ann Arbor (MTC UMich)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – On the University of Michigan's North Campus, a 32-acre "mini city" is taking shape.

Complete with roads, intersections, roundabouts, roadway markings, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, bus facilities, benches, simulated buildings, streetlights parked cars, and obstacles like construction barriers, the "mini-city" has everything a major city would have.

Everything except residents.

Called M City, the network of roads and building facades has been designed expressly for testing connected and automated vehicle systems, and other emerging 21st-century smart city technologies.

"Connected and automated vehicle technology will usher in a revolution in the mobility of people and goods comparable to that sparked by the introduction of the automobile a century ago," said Peter Sweatman, director of U-M's Mobility Transformation Center. "M City will allow us to rigorously test new approaches in a safe, controlled and realistic environment before we implement them on actual streets."

M City was built in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Transportation, with the backing of the Mobility Transformation Center, a partnership with industry and government to develop the foundations for a commercially viable ecosystem of connected and automated mobility.

Connected vehicles talk to each other and to elements of the infrastructure, securely exchanging data including location, speed, and direction. Automated vehicles are equipped with new systems that control driving functions, such as acceleration, braking or steering.

A key goal of the U-M initiative is to implement a connected and automated mobility system on the streets of southeastern Michigan by 2021, which can dramatically improve safety, relieve traffic congestion, cut back on emissions, conserve energy and maximize transportation accessibility.

M City's roadway construction was completed in December and the facility will be operational in the spring, with a formal opening planned for July.