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

  • More than 1,000 cold-stunned sea turtles wash into Florida bay

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TAMPA, Fla. -- More than 1,000 sea turtles stunned by unusually cold weather have been rescued from waters off Florida's Panhandle this month. U.S. Geological Survey sea turtle expert Margaret Lamont said cold-stunned sea turtles began appearing in St. Source
  • Facebook to emphasize 'trustworthy' news

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Facebook is announcing a second major tweak to its algorithm, saying it will prioritize news based on survey results of trustworthiness. The company said in a blog post and Facebook post from CEO Mark Zuckerberg Friday that it is surveying users about their familiarity with and trust in news sources. Source
  • Facebook to emphasize 'trustworthy' news via user surveys

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Facebook is taking another step to try to make itself more socially beneficial, saying it will boost news sources that its users rate as trustworthy in surveys. In a blog post and a Facebook post from CEO Mark Zuckerberg Friday, the company said it is surveying users about their familiarity with and trust in news sources. Source
  • Melted nuclear fuel seen inside second Fukushima reactor

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant said Friday that a long telescopic probe successfully captured images of what is most likely melted fuel inside one of its three damaged reactors, providing limited but crucial information for its cleanup. Source
  • Meteorite hunters find first fragments of Michigan meteor

    Tech & Science CTV News
    DETROIT -- Meteorite hunters who flocked to Detroit from across the U.S. after a meteor exploded are finding the fragments. The 6-foot-wide meteor broke apart Tuesday about 20 miles over Earth, NASA scientists said. Source
  • Zoocheck calls for strong message on ice-cream-eating bear

    Tech & Science CTV News
    An international wildlife protection charity says they hope the Alberta government sends a strong message as it investigates a central Alberta zoo that took one of its bears through a drive-thru for ice cream. The video, posted on social media this week by the Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, showed a one-year old captive bear named Berkley leaning out a truck's window and being hand-fed ice cream by the owner of the Innisfail Dairy Queen. Source
  • NASA bumps astronaut off June spaceflight in rare move

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA has bumped an astronaut off an upcoming spaceflight, a rare move for the space agency so close to launch. Astronaut Jeanette Epps was supposed to rocket away in early June, and would have been the first African-American to live on the International Space Station. Source
  • Adolescence now lasts from 10 to 24, scientists suggest

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Growing up will take a little longer if a group of new scientists get their way. In a new opinion piece in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, a group of seven academics make a case for redefining adolescence from ages 10-19 to 10-24. Source
  • Hippo-y birthday to Fiona! The popular preemie is turning 1

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CINCINNATI -- Some days, it's more like being a Hollywood star's agent than a communications official for the zoo. That's what happens when your prematurely born hippopotamus becomes a global celebrity. The Cincinnati Zoo has a day of festivities ready for Fiona's first birthday party Saturday, and expect plenty more of Fiona in Year 2. Source
  • Booby-trapped messaging apps used for spying in Canada, U.S.: researchers

    Tech & Science CTV News
    An espionage campaign using malware-infected messaging apps has been stealing smartphone data from activists, soldiers, lawyers, journalists and others in more than 20 countries, researchers said in a report Thursday. A report authored by digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation and mobile security firm Lookout detailed discovery of "a prolific actor" with nation-state capabilities "exploiting targets globally across multiple platforms. Source