Experts in association with the University of Michigan have set up a whole fake town outside of Ann Arbor to test self-driving cars. They’re calling it Mcity, and it comes complete with traffic jams, heavy rains, blind turns, multiple road surfaces, moving buildings to keep things fresh, and anything else that can put a car at a high risk of crashing. On the occasion its opening this week, the press release gave more details:
Mcity is a 32-acre simulated urban and suburban environment that includes a network of roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals, streetlights, building facades, sidewalks and construction obstacles. It is designed to support rigorous, repeatable testing of new technologies before they are tried out on public streets and highways.
“There are many challenges ahead as automated vehicles are increasingly deployed on real roadways,” Sweatman said. “Mcity is a safe, controlled, and realistic environment where we are going to figure out how the incredible potential of connected and automated vehicles can be realized quickly, efficiently and safely.”
In particular, Mcity allows researchers to simulate the environments where connected and automated vehicles will be most challenged. Even seemingly minor details a vehicle might encounter in urban and suburban settings have been incorporated into Mcity, such as road signs defaced by graffiti and faded lane markings.
As regular Via Meadia readers will know, we think autonomous cars are going to revolutionize American society in ways most people haven’t yet dreamed of.
Most people, however, seem to mistrust the technology, and to hold it to a much higher standard than a car with a human behind the wheel. For example, after one of Google’s self-driving cars was rear-ended last week, a whole brouhaha kicked off over whether this disproves Google’s safety claims, even though a human driver was clearly at fault in this case. In fact, in the 1.7 million miles they’ve driven, all seven of the accidents that the cars Google has roaming Nevada and California have gotten into have been deemed to be caused by human drivers. (That predicts considerably fewer accidents per hundred million vehicle miles traveled than human drivers log.)
This brings us back to Mcity. Both Google’s successful tests and the development of technologies that gradually have traditional cars making more and more autonomous decisions have gone a long way towards winning over the public. A very public proving ground, constantly collecting data as it pushes the cars beyond what they can safely do in the real-world tests, will add to the momentum. Years from now, when you can read or nap on the commute you probably don’t even have to make anymore, thank Mcity for paving the way.