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Autonomous Proving Ground at Willow Run to Expand for More Difficult Tests

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【Summary】After opening its doors as a hub for autonomous testing last year, Willow Run already has extensive plans in place to expand to allow for more grueling tests.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Jan 26, 2018 10:10 AM PT
Autonomous Proving Ground at Willow Run to Expand for More Difficult Tests

Last summer, Ypsilanti Charter Township, Mich. renovated the historic Willow Run facility to become a hub for autonomous testing. The goal with the renovation was to create a site where automakers, tech companies, and Tier One suppliers could utilize to develop driverless technology. At the site's opening in December, these companies could use Willow Run's tests tracks, while other facilities would come after. 

More Construction For Harder Tests

According to a report by The Detroit News, John Maddox, the American Center for Mobility's president and CEO, already has his crew set to complete some more construction at the facility. The outlet states that the 500-acre self-driving proving ground will change throughout its lifetime to provide harder tests for autonomous vehicles.

By December, the Willow Run location will have a mock city that will allow companies to test driverless cars in. The location, according to the report, will be larger than the one located at the University of Michigan. The facility could rival the fake city that Uber made in Pittsburgh.  

Apparently, the Willow Run facility will go through three phases that will see the testing ground expand with new types of tests for autonomous vehicles. The first phase, which finished last December, saw the location add a six-lane highway, a tri-level intersection, a tunnel where officials can control light and weather, a full-size interchange loop, and a series concrete and asphalt roads that allow vehicles to travel at speeds of up to 65 mph. The main aspect of phase one is to allow companies to test how their autonomous vehicles deal with highway scenarios. 

Urban And Residential Locations Set To Arrive In 2019

Phase two commences later this April and will see the addition of an urban intersection by July. Other building facades and urban infrastructure will be added by December. 

Lastly, phase three involves the inclusion of residential and rural areas to the center. According to The Detroit News, phase three will allow companies to test delivery services. The additions will be completed by 2019. The report claims that Maddox plans to add a "user-defined area" that will be similar to a sandbox environment that companies can use to create their own bespoke tests. 

Demand For New Testing Sites Is High

Apparently, all of the buildings are being completed to meet demand, states the outlet. Automakers, tech companies, and automotive suppliers are looking for places test their autonomous vehicles off of public roads. 

"You need a controlled environment," Maddox said. He also added that the facility at Willow Run allows companies to recreate specific scenarios numerous times – something that's not possible on public roads. 

Last April, the Michigan Strategic Fund approved $15 million in state funding for the center. The outlet states that the state had previously pledged $20 million. 

Maddox stated that the American Center for Mobility will constantly be expanded, as new features will open in "stages" through the end of 2019. Reportedly, approximately $110 million has already been secured for the first two phases of expansion. 

The Detroit News reports that Subaru of America is the latest contributor to the site, as it will invest roughly $2 million into the facility. Other investors include: Toyota Motor North America, AT&T, Visteon Corp., Ford Motor Co., and Hyundai America Technical Center Inc.

The various tests and facilities at Willow Run allow automakers to put their self-driving vehicles through difficult tests. "We're designing for a worst-case scenario for an autonomous vehicle," said Maddox. Once companies figure out how to get their vehicles through the difficult tests, things will only get worse. 

"As the technology transitions, we will do the same," stated Maddox. The American Center for Mobility is clearly built for the long haul. 

via: The Detroit News/Photo By: MI Tech News

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