Mr. Sweatman also is director of the Mobility Transformation Center, formed by academic, government and corporate sponsors, including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co.
Auto makers have said driverless cars may be on the road within five years. The market for autonomous technology will grow to $42 billion by 2025 and self-driving cars may account for a quarter of global auto sales by 2035, according to Boston Consulting Group. By 2017, semi-autonomous cars that operate in auto-pilot mode, park themselves and change lanes automatically will be available in “large numbers,” the firm said.
Until now, tests of autonomous cars have been conducted on public roads or private proving grounds. Auto makers study robot cars on old test tracks designed to evaluate how fast traditional cars can run laps or how well they handle with humans at the wheel. Google Inc. has logged more than 1 million miles of testing its self-driving cars on Silicon Valley roads and, as of last month, Austin, Texas, highways.
M City represents an alternative to that.
“If you're out on the public roadways, certainly all kinds of really unusual things will arise, but they're only going to arise once,” Mr. Sweatman said. “We like the idea of creating challenging situations that we can reproduce as many times as we want.”
Once a technology is proved in M City's controlled environment, it can be tested on public roads, he said. Auto makers and the university already have 3,000 connected cars on the roads in Ann Arbor, capable of communicating with one another and with infrastructure such as traffic lights. By 2020, there will be 29,000 connected cars tested on public roads in southeastern Michigan, Mr. Sweatman said.
“We also have a simulator that simulates automated vehicles,” he said. “So we can work right across the simulator to M City to Ann Arbor and then to a bigger deployment across southeastern Michigan. We can do rapid cycles of learning right across all those environments.”
Auto makers have been eager to take to the roads of M City, Mr. Sweatman said.
“We're trying to imagine what the fully evolved automated future might look like,” he said. “When companies see it, the juices really start to flow and they have an epiphany when they realize, ‘Wow, I can do that here.'”
This Bloomberg News report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.