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The University of Michigan is about to open a sophisticated testing ground for driverless vehicles: 32 acres of streets, highways and common obstacles to put tomorrow's robo-cars through their paces.
Called the "Mobility Transformation Facility," the site at the university's North Campus in Ann Arbor will imitate as closely as possible the varied and unpredictable environment we drive through every day. Programmable street lights, simulated construction and (eventually) mechanical pedestrians will thwart driverless vehicles as they roll through.
There's even a short four-lane highway so the cars can practice jumping in and out of high-speed traffic.
Doing such tests in real cities and highways is, naturally, prohibited in most cases: While some states grant special licenses for driverless cars for testing purposes, no one wants a prototype barreling down their street.
The cross-department Mobility Transformation Center is working to design and construct the facility, which will initially be used to test an automated (but not fully driverless) Ford Fusion hybrid. Other companies and departments will also have access to it as well, of course.
Construction starts this summer, and the plan is to open in the fall. That sounds ambitious, but of course the buildings will all be cut-outs — the cars won't know the difference.