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How to test self-driving cars? University of Michigan builds a fake city!

6 June 2014, 7:15 am EDT By Anu Passary Tech Times
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The University of Michigan has built a fake city which will open this fall. The fake city will test self-driving cars to analyze how they respond to various traffic events.

The university officials revealed on June 2, that the facility will be one of a kind and no university in the entire world has built a self-driven car testing city. The University of Michigan claims that the facility will be ready to test automated vehicles from this fall.

The testing area, Mobility Transformation Facility, will be built on 32 acres of city center. The facility will also include a four-lane highway that will let researchers analyze how automated cars enter and exit from high speed highway traffic. The testing facility is expected to include street lights that can be programmed, mechanical pedestrians and simulated buildings.

The key objective to build the fake city is to let researchers analyze how self-driven cars and networked vehicles react to exceptional but hazardous traffic events and varied but unpredictable road settings. The researchers claim that this kind of testing is required to ensure that futuristic self-driving cars are safe enough to operate on the real city streets with real cars and people around.

"We will actually be writing code for the test facility," says Edwin Olson, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering. "We'll be able to trigger tricky traffic signal timings, or a pedestrian stepping into the intersection at just the wrong time, for example."

The upcoming Mobility Transformation Facility will be operated by the university's Mobility Transformation Center, which is a public/private partnership and is also contributing to design and construct the facility.

Even though some states in the U.S. allow testing of automated cars on their streets, they do not allow performing potentially dangerous tests on real city streets.

Peter Sweatman, who is the director the Mobility Transformation Center and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) says that testing self-driving cars in unpredictable traffic situations is very important. The testing of autonomous cars in the University's facility may help reduce road accidents and at the same time ease traffic. Sweatman says that self-driving cars should be able to communicate with the world around them in an effective way rather than operating as an autonomous individual vehicle.

A Ford Fusion hybrid will be the first to take a dive in the testing facility and the Mobility Transformation Facility will also be open to other companies if they want to test their self-driving cars. 

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