Multiple test facilities are now in use and new partnerships are underway following the official opening of the American Center for Mobility (ACM) on the Willow Run site in Ypsilanti Township on April 4.
The connected and autonomous vehicle testing facility is a joint initiative of the state of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the University of Michigan, Business Leaders for Michigan, Ann Arbor SPARK, and Ypsi Township.
ACM announced a new partnership with Microsoft at the opening and has since announced another one with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). More than 400 attended the grand opening, including Gov. Rick Snyder and a representative from Microsoft, says ACM president and CEO John Maddox.
Maddox says several test tracks on the 500-acre site were already up and running by early December of 2017, and that even before the official opening, ACM officials were already coordinating "a very busy schedule."
Currently in use is a highway loop, an inter-urban arterial track (similar to Ann Arbor-Saline Road), and a boulevard track (similar to Telegraph Road or Michigan Avenue). ACM also has its first-phase garages available for short-term use by companies that might want to store vehicles for a week or a month, perhaps to reconfigure software and then launch a follow-up test.
Construction will soon begin on garages for longer-term stays by companies that might want to store vehicles and conduct tests for five or even 10 years. Additionally, by the third week in April, ACM will start construction on a larger, more complicated test intersection, with three lanes running north to south and three running east to west, permitting speeds of up to 50 mph.
"Even as humans, we have trouble turning left across busy traffic, especially with bicyclists or pedestrians," Maddox says.
Plans are to have this test site open by July, and an urban area with traffic lights and traffic circles will be built after that. Maddox says automated vehicles currently find traffic circles challenging, especially when pedestrians are added into the mix.
Maddox says ACM's biggest news is its growing partnerships. Microsoft coming on board as a data and cloud partner was announced during the grand opening.
"It's pretty important to us because these vehicles are based on software, and data they take in has to be analyzed to make control decisions," Maddox says. He notes the data sets from these tests are enormous, up to four terabytes per car per day.
Microsoft will build a "first of its kind" data management and analytics platform that should inspire others to emulate it, Maddox says.
Another collaboration announced a few days after the grand opening was with IEEE, which will help ACM create new voluntary standards for the advanced mobility industry. Maddox says those standards won't be just for the vehicles but also for traffic lights and traffic controls.
Maddox says ACM currently employs 10 or 12 people directly. ACM also hired interns last summer and will again hire a team of interns for summer 2018.
Maddox says ACM is currently a "lean and nimble startup" that intends to stay small, so it won't be contributing a lot of jobs directly to southeast Michigan. However, the many partners working with ACM – including Intertek, which operates and maintains the site – will create new jobs. ACM is committed to hosting career exploration days to introduce students, veterans, and other job seekers to autonomous vehicle technology and related jobs.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of the American Center for Mobility.