New era of connected and automated vehicles

A schematic design was approved Thursday, March 20th by the Board of Regents for the design of a unique environment for testing connected and automated vehicles, the university will proceed to the construction phase of the facility, which is part of the U-M's Mobility Transformation Center.

The North Campus Research Complex (NCRC) facility simulates a dynamic urban environment. It is a critical element of a joint project with industry and government to develop and implement an advanced system of connected and automated vehicles for moving people and freight on the streets of Southeastern Michigan by 2021.

At the October 2013 meeting, the Board of Regents approved the Mobility Transformation Facility project and the appointment of Mannik Smith Group as the architect for its design. The College of Engineering and University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), in collaboration with the University of Michigan Office of Research, the University of Michigan Energy Institute, and the State of Michigan Department of Transportation, propose creating a facility to simulate everyday driving conditions for the testing of connected and automated vehicles.

This artist's rendering shows the testing environment for connected and automated vehicles at the North Campus Research Complex. (Photo courtesy of U-M Office of Research)

The project will include the site clearing, grading, infrastructure and roadways for a four-lane 1,000-foot straight asphalt road, merge lanes, a network of asphalt and concrete urban streets, roundabout, traffic circle, crushed-gravel road segment, concrete calibration pad, service road connecting to the UMTRI parking lot, storage lot, security fencing around the entire site, covered pavilion, lighting, and electrical and networking infrastructure. This project also includes landscaping and storm water management, with a bridge, culverts, and bank stabilization to minimize wetland impacts adjacent to Millers Creek.

The College of Engineering and UMTRI will be responsible for the future installation of site accessories that are not included in this project. Over time, these accessories may include building facades placed onto foundations to simulate urban streets, street signs and trusses for overhead highway signage, roadway and pedestrian lights, railroad crossings, traffic signals, benches, traffic barrels, mock fire hydrants, and other devices necessary to simulate a realistic driving environment. Parking will be provided on site as part of the project.

Current plans call for the facility to be completed by the fall of 2014 at a cost of about $6.5 million. Funding will be provided by the College of Engineering, the Office of Research, the Office of the Provost, and a grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation.

"We are on the cusp of a revolution in transportation unlike any we've seen since the introduction of the automobile," said Peter Sweatman, director of the U-M Mobility Transformation Center, which is leading the initiative. "The new facility will help the MTC partnership accelerate and integrate innovations that will lead to a commercially viable automated mobility system that will fundamentally transform mobility in our society."

With more than $30 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, U-M has been operating the world's largest on-road, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure model deployment in Ann Arbor. This project, which has been providing a base of data on how a system of connected and automated vehicles could operate, includes several industry participants and involves nearly 3,000 public and private vehicles.

Plans call for expanding the deployment to 9,000 vehicles across the entire Ann Arbor area. In addition, the MTC will work with the state Transportation Department to install unique "smart" infrastructure involving 20,000 vehicles across Southeastern Michigan. Ultimately, the MTC plans to deploy an advanced system of 2,000 connected and automated vehicles in Ann Arbor.

According to S. Jack Hu, interim vice president for research, the MTC represents a novel and ambitious approach to university research that builds on U-M's strengths. "We are convening experts from across campus as well as from industry and government to address the full scientific, technical, economic, social and policy complexities required to realize the promise of connected and automated vehicles," he said. "Our planned test facility, along with the on-roadway deployments we have planned, will allow us to work together on practical solutions to the challenges ahead and will help position U-M and the region as a whole as a global center for innovation for this emerging technology."