Work starts on new autonomous and connected vehicle testing site

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The existing site already has a number of features that are desirable for such a facility(Credit: American Center for Mobility)

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Ground has been broken on a new proving facility for connected and autonomous vehicles and mobility solutions. The American Center for Mobility is designed for research, education, testing, standards-convening, product development, validation and self-certification of future transportation tech.

The aim of the purpose-built facility is to support the development of such technology and of standards for improving transportation systems. It won't just be used to test vehicles, though, but roads, infrastructure and communication systems too.

The existing site already has a number of features that are desirable for such a facility, including double overpasses, a railroad crossing and a highway loop for testing at sustained speeds. There will be highway, urban, residential, rural, off-road and commercial driving environments, as well as intersections, traffic circles, roads with complex lighting and a 700-ft (213-m) curved tunnel. It will also be possible to test during all four seasons, at day and night and in sun, rain, ice and snow.

Ultimately, it is hoped that the American Center for Mobility will become a technology hub used by private businesses, government, standards bodies and academic institutions. There will be offices, garages and other spaces available for organizations to lease and there is enough room for the facility to grow and adapt as required over time.

The center is being built on the 335-ac (136-ha) Willow Run site in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan. Willow Run was used as a manufacturing facility for B-24 bombers during World War II and has also previously been home to a General Motors powertrain plant, which is why the site has so much existing infrastructure.

It is also located close to Mcity, another facility designed for testing connected and autonomous vehicles and systems that opened last year. The design and operation of the two facilities is to be coordinated, with the aim of the American Center for Mobility complementing Mcity's simulated urban and suburban environments with larger and a wider range of environments.

"We envision the American Center for Mobility as a global hub for connected and automated vehicle technologies supported by Michigan's high concentration of automotive expertise," says president and CEO of the American Center for Mobility John Maddox. "We are excited to be partnering with the state of Michigan to establish a fully-capable, real-world testing and innovation center that will be instrumental in putting self-driving cars on America's roads."

The purchase of the Willow Run site was completed earlier this month for US$1.2 million by Willow Run Arsenal of Democracy Landholdings Limited Partnership, which will lease the property to the American Center for Mobility. It's not clear yet when the center is due to open.

The video below provides an introduction to the project.

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