In the wake of the worst week ever for autonomous cars, a crucial testing ground for the tech has officially opened its doors.
The American Center for Mobility is up and running following a formal ribbon cutting ceremony at the Michigan facility earlier this month. The 500-acre site—which formerly housed Ford’s Willow Run Plant, where B-24 bomber planes were built to fight in World War II—will now cater to automakers interested in perfecting autonomous tech—and it seems the industry still has a lot to learn.
March marked the bloodiest month ever for self-driving autos, after an Arizona woman was struck and killed by an autonomous Uber car and a California man died in a crash caused by his Tesla X autopilot. The nearly back-to-back casualties have already made a mark on the public perception of the vehicles, putting a swift halt to the slow progress toward greater acceptance of the computerized rides.
At the April 4 opening ceremony for the new facility, both the tragedies and their apparent impact on national attitudes toward autonomous vehicles were cited by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and the center’s CEO, John Maddox, who said the deadly trend was a “clear indication the technology needs to continue being developed,” with the testing ground—and others like it—playing a “very, very critical” role in the advancement of safer self-driving systems.
Automakers who use the $135 million mobility center to aid in that quest will be privy to the site’s 2.5-mile highway loop and 700-foot-long tunnel, among other amenities. Future additions to the grounds include a technology park and the installation of an urban driving test environment, which are both under construction.
While some government backing went toward covering construction costs, the center is primarily financed through the purchase of sponsorships by private businesses, including Toyota, Subaru, Ford, Hyundai, AT&T, and Microsoft. It joins fellow Great Lakes State autonomous car testing hotspots Mcity and May Mobility, further cementing Michigan’s role in automobile history—and future.