Self-Driving Cars Tested on the Road

Joe Weinlick
Posted by

Self-driving cars may eventually become mainstream thanks to a fleet of Google vehicles in production in Detroit. Proving grounds for these types of cars include a special road course under construction at the University of Michigan. The Mobility Transportation Center starts operations in the summer of 2015.

The aim of the University of Michigan project revolves around testing self-driving cars in real-world situations. The quasi-city is funded with partnerships from the federal government and technology companies — up to 26 companies have joined the university — eager to test how autonomous cars respond to various scenarios that could occur on the road. Brandmotion provides logistical support while it develops aftermarket products to be used for later applications.

The road course features wireless connectivity and feels like a life-sized toy set complete with fake building facades and a railroad crossing. The Mobility Transportation Center tests the internal workings of self-driving cars and the infrastructure needed to support such initiatives. The 32-acre facility includes complex crossroads, elevated roadways and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Wireless transmitters embedded in cars and in the surrounding environment allow the vehicles to make decisions based on what information the cars' computers receive.

The aftermarket portion, run by Brandmotion, remains an important aspect of self-driving cars. Technology must be developed now so computers within cars can talk to each other when these vehicles are ready for everyday driving. Software, hardware, displays, sensors and transmitters should integrate with current driving technology to make the transition to driverless cars easier. The ultimate goal of this public-private partnership is to have an autonomous vehicle network in southeast Michigan by 2021.

This project follows Google's efforts to manufacture a fleet of 150 self-driving cars with the help of experienced automobile designers and engineers already in Detroit. The next-generation Google vehicles have working headlights, sensors mounted on the roof and other amenities to make a fully functional car. Google plans to test the new vehicles in California in the spring of 2015, but the University of Michigan facility may create a rival business.

As with any aftermarket products, competition lowers prices for consumers. If Google plans to sell its cars by 2020, and the University of Michigan project hopes to have an autonomous driving zone in Michigan by 2021, the autonomous vehicle market may become vibrant sooner rather than later. Once higher-end buyers purchase prototype models, the return on investment drives prices lower for everyday consumers.

Self-driving cars represent an amalgamation of technologies that require collaboration from several manufacturing companies. When, not if, these cars reach the mainstream market, many firms stand to benefit thanks to consumer demand for safer cars on the road. Interested businesses should invest now to prepare for possible profits ahead.

Photo courtesy of Travis Wise at



Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

Jobs to Watch