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U of Michigan builds a fake city as test bed for driverless cars

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Driverless vehicles are coming, and the University of Michigan is looking to take the lead in developing a fake city on its campus for simulation and testing purposes. The announcement comes as more and more companies, especially Google, tout their ability to develop driverless vehicles that can traverse towns and cities without breaking the law or hitting pedestrians.

The school has designed a course for automated vehicles at the university's Mobility Transformation Facility. It will imitate the regular city environment for cars and recreate road navigation that a car would face on a daily basis.

The 32-acre area includes fully developed streets, a four-lane highway and the usual street obstacles. It is aimed at giving driverless vehicles the opportunity to practice and see how the vehicle can perform on a natural street-like atmosphere.

It should help researchers understand how the tech forward vehicles drive and maneuver safely in a real-life driving experience.

"The College of Engineering brings expertise in robotics and how to test sophisticated machines," Peter Sweatman, director of both the Mobility Transformation Center and the U-M Transportation Research Institute, said in a statement.

The area is currently under construction and will also have a myriad number of faux pedestrians that will "surprise" the vehicles as obstacles as they traverse the course, giving it a pseudo real experience as to how the real world functions and how unpredictable pedestrians can often be on the streets of actual cities.

In many ways, the University of Michigan is developing an entire town for the purpose of testing driverless vehicles, complete with traffic lights and other common street signs and numerous lanes.

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

Some online observers have dubbed the new training facility the "Hunger Games" for driverless vehicles, a reference made to the popular book and film series by the same name where contestants battle to the death.

But the driverless vehicles hope not for death, but a birth of findings and understanding in order to make cars without drivers a real, viable, solution for the future.

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