Mum’s the word at Mcity. Engineers, designers and manufacturers are assured of complete confidentiality as they develop the latest technologies for connected and automated vehicles at the University of Michigan’s 32-acre educational testing site.
An aerial view of the Mcity Test Facility, which sits on a 32-acre site and features about 16 acres of roads and traffic infrastructure.
While expert automotive consultations are readily available to assist the clientele if desired, “We don’t ask users to disclose their testing plans,” says Susan Carney, Mcity’s director of marketing and communications.
And even if such information were to become available, you wouldn’t be reading about it on this page. “It is a closed facility, and the work done here is private,” she emphasizes.
“We don’t disclose specific information about who is using Mcity because, like most automotive proving grounds, it is a closed facility and any work done there is confidential,” adds Dr. Huei Peng, the center’s director who is also U-M’s Roger L. McCarthy Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “But since its opening in 2015, Mcity has been in demand for testing and research as well as for informational visits by government officials and media.”
“The Mcity Test Facility is essentially a mock city,” Carney tells Aftermarket Business World, “with an urban area, a stretch of highway, roundabouts, traffic lights and crosswalks, a tunnel and more. It was designed to support safe, repeatable testing of connected and automated vehicles and technologies in a real-world, controlled environment before trying them out on public roads.”
As a public-private R&D partnership, more than 100 undergrad and graduate students under the direction of 50 faculty members at the school’s College of Engineering work on an assortment projects in collaboration with OEMs and parts suppliers who consequently conduct testing at the course on a sliding fee scale.
Building facades up to two stories high line the streets of Mcity’s urban downtown area.
A highway overpass is simulated at Mcity by a tunnel that blocks vehicles from receiving wireless and satellite signals.
“More ‘traditional’ automotive proving grounds generally are much larger,” according to Carney, often dominated by an oval high-speed track. At Mcity’s realistically focused environment, building facades of up to two stories high can be efficiently repositioned and the locations of faux pedestrians, bicyclists and other obstacles can be altered for different types of tests.
The tunnel that comprises a simulated highway overpass is accompanied by a steel bridge to create special challenges by blocking vehicle reception of signals from sensors, satellites and other wireless sources.
Included in the 16 acres of roads and traffic infrastructure are 4.25 lane-miles of varied driving surfaces such as gravel and differing pavement types. A 1,000-foot stretch of highway mimics a limited-access freeway, complete with entrance and exit ramps, overhead road signs, guardrails and other features. There are street lights, crosswalks, lane delineators, curb cuts, bike lanes, trees, fire hydrants, sidewalks, signs, traffic control devices – even construction barriers.
“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,” explains Dr. Ryan Eustice, a U-M associate professor who additionally serves as director of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) and director of the Perceptual Robotics Laboratory (PeRL) along with contributing to collaborative programs with Ford.