Posted on 6/15/2016

The race is on to lead the next revolution in transportation

Our transportation system is facing a revolution in the near future. The commercial implementation of vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, driver assistance systems and automated features (including highly automated/driverless driving) have the potential to significantly increase passengers’ convenience. And if implemented purposely, these technologies can potentially increase safety while improving mobility, as well as create smarter, more efficient transportation networks that reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for moving people and freight. 

However, manufacturers, private industry, government and academia must overcome significant challenges to realize the full potential of this technology. They will need an appropriate testing, standard-setting, and product development environment to do so — one that can validate the safe and efficient operation, commercial viability, and cybersecurity of the new technologies and transportation systems in the full range of environments.

A combination of simulation, track testing, and on-road testing will be required to validate these systems sufficiently for safe, efficient and effective deployment. Collaboration of government, industry and academia is necessary to address these challenges and develop real-world products to maximize benefit for society. Many countries have recognized the national importance of these technologies, for both international competitiveness of their auto industry, as well as social and economic benefits for their country as a whole. The race is on to lead this next revolution in transportation.

The American Center for Mobility (ACM), a collaboration of the State of Michigan, Ann Arbor SPARK, and the University of Michigan, seeks to meet the U.S. national need for a Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) facility. Based at Willow Run airport — previous home to iconic Ford and General Motors assembly plants and the renowned “Arsenal of Democracy” of World War II — the center will drive standards development, testing and certification of the technologies that will literally drive our vehicles of tomorrow. 

The center will include the following environments and facilities:

  • High speed divided highway, with overpasses and tunnels
  • Urban area, with roads, traffic lights, building facades, pedestrians, etc. 
  • Commercial area, with retail, industrial, and freight configurations 
  • Suburban/residential area, with residential roads, mixed traffic environment and pedestrian 
  • Rural area, with rural roads, curves, elevation changes, and railroad crossings
  • Off-road area. with gravel and dirt road surfaces with vegetation and water features
  • User-defined specialized testing with configurable open slab testing space
  • User campus, with shop, garage, office, and convening space

The Willow Run site is in very close proximity to most auto industry OEMs and suppliers to maximize utilization and potential for collaboration. Michigan is home to 75 percent of the automotive industry’s research and development and 25 percent of all U.S. auto plants. Sixty-three of the top 100 automotive suppliers in in North America are headquartered here. Over 1.1 million (11 percent) of Michigan’s citizens are employed by the automotive industry. 

The facility is centrally located in the heart of America’s automotive industry, near almost all major OEMs and suppliers’ research and development facilities. It is also located completely within the MDOT Connected Corridor and very close to the University of Michigan’s Mcity and numerous other universities and industrial stakeholders.  The site experiences significant real-world weather variation, in which CAVs will have to operate for full-scale deployment. It is expected that operations will begin by mid-2017. 

ACM represents an important step forward in solidifying Michigan as a leader in the connected and autonomous transportation system of the future. Happily, it is but one example of the state’s commitment. Michigan is already home to MDOT’s Smart Corridor, a series of technology test beds and pilot deployments that stretches from Ann Arbor up to Port Huron and is bordered by I-696 and I-94 on the way to Detroit. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safety Pilot deployment is in its fifth year across the Ann Arbor region, and later this month, TARDEC and MDOT will demonstrate vehicle platooning down I-69. 

To try and capture the totality of the state’s efforts in this area and its potential impact on the world, the MEDC Automotive Office, in partnership with McCann Worldwide, launched a new brand campaign, Planet M, at this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference. Planet M will be the banner under which all of our efforts, and those of our partners from across the state, will be connected. 

Michigan has long led the way in innovating the future of the automobile specifically, and transportation broadly. It is positioned to do so once again. 

Companies interested in learning more about the ACM or how to get involved can contact ​Eric Shreffler for more details.

About the Author

​Eric Shreffler | MEDC

Eric Shreffler is the managing director for the Automotive Office at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. In this role he works directly with automotive industry stakeholders to establish economic development opportunities for the state. His team collaborates with federal agencies to identify partnership and funding opportunities to drive innovation, commercialization and growth. 


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