Operators of the Willow Run plant in southeast Michigan have long since shut down the factory floor where Ford built World War II bombers, but the area will soon be home again to an explosive technology.
The American Center for Mobility is due to take over the site’s 335 acres, creating a massive research center for testing self-driving cars and bringing Michigan, once again, to the forefront of developing automotive advancements.
Designed by the federal government, the center is intended to be a proving ground for all things autonomous. Due to open this December, it will include, among other amenities, a 2.5-mile highway loop with on and off ramps, a curved, 700-foot-long tunnel, and an on-site garage, to doctor test models that don’t make the cut on such obstacles.
Buoying those efforts is a recent $5 million investment in the facility by Japanese carmaking giant Toyota, the first auto manufacturer to put money into the $110 million project.
The investment will allow Toyota to book the facility further in advance than other interested parties and help prioritize the type of testing taking place at the center. Toyota will also have a hand in developing any programs involving how education, standards, or testing are run, the Center’s president, John Maddox, told the Detroit Free Press. The carmaker will also get a place on a government-industry team created to support the facility’s initiatives.
While other auto manufacturers are also expected to participate in the development and use of the center—monetarily and otherwise—the Toyota investment will help get things moving. And the timing couldn’t be better for the federal government.
Self-driving cars are coming, fast. In anticipation of the burgeoning technology taking over the roads, the Federal Communications Commission recently opened up even more airspace to be used by our increasingly connected cars, and congress is currently debating a bill that gives a huge amount of autonomy to autonomous carmakers, clearing any state-based hurdles that could work to slow down the advancement of the new-age vehicles.
With the Michigan mobility testing center in place, the public sector will have an even bigger seat at the self-driving table and be able to have a hand in the direction the technology moves.