Ford announced it’s the first automaker to test an autonomous vehicle on the roads of MCity, a 32-acre campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Ford autonomous car is a Fusion Hybrid with four LiDAR sensors added that generate a real-time 3D map of the vehicle’s surrounding environment.
MCity has the look and feel of an ordinary American city block, complete with structures, curbs, and traffic lights. Closed off from regular traffic gives MCity partners the ability to repeat tests and fine-tune certain traffic scenarios.
Ford hopes to accelerate development of its autonomous technology. Ford has been testing autonomous vehicles for more than 10 years, and offers a broad portfolio of semi-autonomous technologies on vehicles globally to make drivers’ daily drives more convenient. Autonomous vehicles are a key part of Ford Smart Mobility, a plan to make millions of people’s lives better.
MCity is a public-private partnership funded by the University of Michigan, Michigan Department of Transportation and 16 companies who contributed $1 million a piece to become partners, MCity can accommodate two companies testing on a given day. Member companies include OEMs like Ford, Toyota, General Motors and Nissan. Suppliers Delphi Auto, Robert Bosch, and DENSO Corporation are some of the others involved.
Creating public-private partnerships to explore autonomous technology is becoming more common. “The goal of MCity is simply to get the technology off our fake streets and on to real streets as quickly as possible,” according to Peter Sweatman, director of the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center.
“The goal of MCity is that we get a scaling factor. Every mile driven there can represent 10, 100 or 1,000 miles of on-road driving in terms of our ability to pack in the occurrences of difficult events,” said Ryan Eustice, University of Michigan associate professor.
“Testing Ford’s autonomous vehicle fleet at MCity provides another challenging, yet safe, urban environment to repeatedly check and hone these new technologies,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s group vice president of global product development. Earlier this year, the company reached a milestone for the autonomous project, moving it from a research project to an advanced engineering phase.
“The public tends to think that self-driving cars are here, but the reality is that some of the (environment) sensing tech isn’t fully baked yet,” says Eustice.
Most experts agree that making self-driving cars truly ready for the real world will include making sure they don’t go blind in blizzards or other weather that might throw off a car’s radar, lasers or cameras. Snow often removes depth perception from sensors, which requires the cars to rely on other spacial detection techniques.
“A few people have joked (about MCity) saying, ‘Where are the Michigan potholes?’ We were thinking of adding them, but this coming winter might just do that for us,” says Sweatman.