Ford Begins Autonomous Vehicle Testing in ‘Fake’ Michigan City

When the topic of self-driving cars comes up, Google typically comes to mind (sometimes in humorous fashion). So does Tesla, and to an extent, Apple is a name that's thrown around. You can go ahead add Ford to the list, as the major automaker is stepping up its autonomous vehicle initiative by becoming the first to test self-driving cars at Mcity, a full-scale simulated real-world urban environment at the University of Michigan.

Mcity is a 32-acre facility that's part of the university's Mobility Transformation Center. It has street lights, crosswalks, lane delineators, curb cuts, bike lanes, trees, hydrants, sidewalks, signs, traffic control devices, and even construction barriers. It's about as real-world as it gets in a simulated environment, and it allows testers to replicate potentially dangerous scenarios like running a red light, which wouldn't be permissible on a public road.

Ford Self-Driving Car

"Testing Ford’s autonomous vehicle fleet at Mcity provides another challenging, yet safe, urban environment to repeatedly check and hone these new technologies," said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development. "This is an important step in making millions of people’s lives better and improving their mobility."

Ford isn't new to the autonomous vehicle category. Though Google dominates the limelight, Ford's been testing self-driving cars for the past decade and is now expanding its efforts at Mcity.

"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," said Ryan Eustice, University of Michigan associate professor and principal investigator in Ford’s research collaboration with the university.

While the ultimate goal is to perfect the self-driving car, there are more immediate applications. Ford has a full portfolio of semi-autonomous technologies designed to make humans better drivers.