University of Michigan opens miniature city to test driverless cars

MCity IntersectionThe future of cars is headed towards two things: electrification and automation.

This month marked the official opening of MCity, the University of Michigan’s test ground for autonomous and connected vehicle technology. It’s basically a mini-city, complete with building facades, interchangeable traffic signs and signals, a roundabout and simulated pedestrians. Researchers will use it to test driverless vehicles in real-world situations, without actually sending them into the real world and potentially endangering people.

The test track will be used to test electric-autonomous vehicles as well. First up: a "SmartCart." It’s a small car (small enough to be 3D printed), that’s meant to be a commuting option for campuses and business parks.

Picture of Smart Cart courtesy of University of Michigan“Think Uber, but with low-speed, autonomous cars,” said Edwin Olson, an associate professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science who leads the project. “The goal of SmartCarts is for us to begin understanding the challenges of a transportation-on-demand system built around autonomous cars.”

These cars are electric, meaning they’ll have small carbon footprint, but the fact that they’re autonomous also cuts down on their emissions. Researchers in the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab recently came out with a study that estimates that driverless, electric cars would show a 90% decrease in carbon footprints, compared to traditional gas-powered vehicles.

But the future of transportation isn’t commercially available yet. The SmartCart will be in testing throughout this year, first in MCity, then on the University's North Campus.

Photos courtesy of University of Michigan website