Japanese automaker Hyundai plans to test autonomous cars at Willow Run, Michigan, an 311 acre test site in development, dedicated to simulating self-driving in a town.
The American Center for Mobility, a state government organization, will operate the facility. It plans to open its doors in 2017, using a ‘pay per use’ model for manufacturers and developers that want to test it.
Willow Run will become a simulated town, with skyscrapers, high-speed loops, and urban objects that self-driving systems may not recognize. The hope is that with all of the simulated objects, self-driving systems will become smarter faster and pass the data to the rest of the fleet.
Hyundai is one of the first manufacturers to publicly reveal interest in the Willow Run test site. We expect others to follow suit, considering the lax regulations on self-driving vehicles in the state and it being the heartland of automotive manufacturing.
The University of Michigan, which has worked on a few self-driving projects, is heavily connected to the project.
“It will make it a lot easier,” said Andy Freels, president of the Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center to Automotive News. “It will help us because that infrastructure will already be in place at these facilities. Plus, it will be kind of the latest and greatest.”
“Willow Run is going to be a pay per use, which is going to be pretty nice. It’s 10 minutes from here. We couldn’t have asked for a closer or better facility,” he added.
The loss of manufacturing in the Rust Belt has hit millions of jobs over the past few decades, but new developments, like Willow Run, show a possible future that includes universities and developers in the local area.