With approval of 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.

A schematic design was approved Thursday by the Board of Regents.

The North Campus Research Complex 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.

“Connected and automated vehicles hold great promise for safety improvements, better traffic movement, emissions reduction, energy conservation, and maximized transportation accessibility,” said Peter Sweatman, director of the U-M Mobility Transformation Center, which is leading the initiative.

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)

“Testing a workable system of such technologies in a realistic off-roadway environment is an essential step before a significant number of vehicles can be safely implemented on actual roadways.”

Located on 30 acres of the NCRC, the test environment will include a network of approximately three lane-miles of concrete and asphalt roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, roundabouts, benches, simulated buildings, streetlights and obstacles such as construction barriers.

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 Sweatman. “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.”

Launched in the spring of 2013, the MTC builds on U-M’s broad base of expertise and experience working with government and industry on transportation research over the years.

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.”