A city for car robots opened in Michigan on Monday and this is not part of a Disney movie nor a science fiction writer's imagination. The facility called "M City" is real and has been under construction since April, as was reported by HNGN. The facility, which lies adjacent to the University of Michigan, was built to train self-driving cars within the current race to develop the ultimate driverless car of the future. It is run by the Mobility Transformation Center, which is a partnership between the university, state and federal governments and auto and technology companies such as Nissan and Honda, the Associated Press reported.
The idea is to secure a location where self-driving cars can learn from conditions and interaction with humans in a real-world scenario, complete with actual obstacles. Cars are tested on their ability to deal with situations such as avoiding running down real people by "mechatronic pedestrians," or robots that will pop out into traffic from time to time, HNGN reported. This way, designers are able to fine tune and hasten the development of the technology. Peter Sweatman, head of the M City facility said, "After all, we're replacing humans with machines and those machines need to be able to operate in a full, rich environment," in an interview with Bloomberg.
The area set aside for the mini car metropolis covers 13 hectares and is complete with all the amenities, population and, of course, problems that typify the modern urban streetscape. Funded with at least $10 million, the M City has buildings, road systems, traffic circle, bridge, tunnel, ramps and pedestrians, among others.
Aside from serving as a training ground for autonomous cars, M City can also reveal insights as to the actual existence and management of a city teeming with these cars, including obstacles that could emerge such as accidents and traffic jams. Essentially, M City pits the cars against a human city so that experts are able to identify points of improvements, The Week noted.
The people behind M City are touting the facility as a way to "hyperaccelerate" autonomous car technology so that people can benefit from it immediately. Self-driving cars are expected to be available in 2020, with companies such as Google already producing working prototypes today. The Boston Consulting Group projects that by 2035, its share of global automobile sales would reach at least 12 million, according to Reuters.