Ghost town tests self-driving cars of tomorrow

Ann Arbor, United States -- Tucked away on a tree-lined US college campus, a sprawling ghost town has been built to test the self-driving cars of the future.

See Full Article

MCity, which sprung up in an empty field a year ago like a Hollywood set, is where new technologies which are already radically reshaping the automotive industry must prove themselves before they make it to regular roads.

The 13-hectare site offers all the trappings of urban life, designed to reproduce the kinds of situations a self-driving car would encounter, like a child dashing into the street after a ball.

Traffic signals, street lights, cross walks, bicycle lanes, roundabouts, a railroad crossing, even construction: nothing has been left out of MCity's design.

The Americana street names -- Liberty Street, State Street, Main Street -- and cheerful store fronts, bus stops, benches, mailboxes and garbage bins give MCity the appearance of a vibrant town.

But its cafes and restaurants are nothing but facades. Its inhabitants are a collection of data crunchers using cameras, radar, sonar and lasers.

For over a year, the faux town has served as a laboratory for testing the self-driving technologies of about a dozen companies, according to Jim Sayer, deployment director at the University of Michigan's Mobility Transformation Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

"Generally speaking they are testing software and sensors: how the system responds in very specific scenarios that they set up," Sayer told AFP.

The facility is able to set up a controlled experiment -- for instance, how a tunnel or tree canopy might impact software. The test can be repeated time and time again while adjustments are made to sensors and software to improve performance.

Snow, night-driving tests

Automakers and technology companies developing autonomous driving systems can run their cars at up to 100 kilometers per hour (60 miles per hour) night or day in a variety of scenarios -- city driving, country driving, highway driving -- and on difference surfaces like gravel, asphalt and concrete.

Ford has tested its autonomous vehicles in MCity, which is just 60 kilometers from its Dearborn headquarters.

One part of its Fusion fleet will soon be tested there during extreme weather like snow and rainstorms, which can interfere with sensors and GPS.

"We've been testing (autonomous) cars in the real world, but using a place like MCity will allow us to refine our algorithms and better calibrate car sensors by repeating specific situations in a reliable way," said Jim McBride, who heads Ford's autonomous vehicle program.

For Sayer, the main value of MCity is the variety of tests that the site permits: each kilometer of the testing site can represent 100 or 1,000 kilometers of driving on real-world roads. And each scenario is infinitely repeatable, not possible on public roads.

MCity was created through a partnership between the university and Michigan's department of transportation. Corporate sponsors provided a million dollars in funding.

It isn't the only testing site of its kind: GoMentum in California has already welcomed test vehicles from Honda.

Sayer said self-drive technology is advancing to the point where autonomous vehicles could soon hit the streets in controlled situations like shuttles which drive people slowly around airports or college campuses.

"For vehicles that can replace the kind of vehicles we drive today operate in all weathers, in all speeds, all road conditions, it's probably another 20 years away before we reach something that is commercially viable," he said.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Google to stop scanning Gmail for ad targeting

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Google said Friday it would stop scanning the contents of Gmail users' inboxes for ad targeting, moving to end a practice that has fueled privacy concerns since the free email service was launched. A Google statement said Gmail users would still see "personalized" ads and marketing messages but these would be based on other data, which may include search queries or browsing habits. Source
  • It's worth the drive to totality: perspectives from an eclipse chaser: Bob McDonald

    Tech & Science CBC News
    August 21st is going to be an insane day across the United States as millions of people gather along a thin line that stretches from coast to coast to watch the moon pass directly in front of the sun in a total solar eclipse. Source
  • Dutch invent phone app to stop kids texting on bikes

    Tech & Science CTV News
    In the bike-mad Netherlands, the national phone company is developing a smart way to stop kids texting while cycling -- a growing cause of teenage accidents. A new app from phone company KPN will block internet and phone signals to a cyclist's smartphone while they are in the saddle. Source
  • Facebook launches plan to combat online extremism

    Tech & Science CTV News
    U.S. social media giant Facebook launched a campaign in Britain on Friday to counter the spread of online extremism following warnings from Prime Minister Theresa May after four terror attacks in three months. Facebook said it would seek to educate charities and other organisations on how to fight hate speech, in the wake of recent terror attacks in Belgium, Britain and France. Source
  • Live Asian carp discovered near Lake Michigan

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- A live Asian carp has been discovered in a Chicago waterway about nine miles from Lake Michigan -- well beyond an electric barrier network designed to prevent the invasive fish that have infested the Mississippi River system from reaching the Great Lakes, officials said Friday. Source
  • B.C. woman can file class-action lawsuit against Facebook: Supreme Court

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada says a woman who wants to sue Facebook over its use of “sponsored stories” can pursue her case in British Columbia. Deborah Douez wants to file a class-action lawsuit against the social media giant over a now-defunct advertising format, which allegedly used her name and profile photo in ads endorsing a company for which she had clicked the “Like” button. Source
  • Is Tesla getting into the streaming music business?

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Electric carmaker Tesla said Thursday it was considering ways to enter music streaming amid a report it may launch a unique new service. The high-end carmaker, which already has a tie-up with streaming leader Spotify in some international markets, said it was aiming at ways to please drivers. Source
  • Solar eclipse in August raising worries about Ontario's power grid

    Tech & Science CTV News
    An astronomical delight this summer is going to pose a terrestrial problem. Operators of Ontario’s power grid are bracing for a sharp drop in electricity generated by solar panels during a summer solar eclipse coming Aug. Source
  • Total solar eclipse casts spotlight on rural Oregon town

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MADRAS, Ore. -- Just before sunrise, there's typically nothing atop Round Butte but the whistle of the wind and a panoramic view of Oregon's second-highest peak glowing pink in the faint light. But on Aug. Source
  • Japan zoo releases gender of star panda

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TOKYO - The baby panda, who has become an overnight celebrity in Japan, is a girl. Tokyo's Ueno Zoo said Friday the panda, born June 12, was ruled a female by examining experts. The still nameless cub has been doing well, drinking mother ShinShin's milk. Source