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University of Michigan to build fake downtown to test driverless cars

January 20, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten


Self driving cars are here.  In Michigan.  Right now.

As I wrote two weeks ago, self driving cars recently got the legislative green light.

Now, Gov. Snyder and other officials have just announced a new, $6.5 million, 32-acre site to be built on the University of Michigan’s north campus as a test center for self driving cars.

They made this exciting announcement at the Detroit Auto Show, according to a recent article in the Detroit Free Press, “Detroit Auto Show: U-M to build fake downtown to test driverless cars.”

Self driving cars — also called driverless cars, autonomous cars and robotic cars — even “Google cars” which have become shorthand for many automonous driverless vehicles – are vehicles that drive themselves.  Self driving cars have new advanced technology that enable them to sense the environment and navigate without a human driver behind the wheel.

Peter Sweatman, director of U-M’s Transportation Research Institute, said the idea of the fake downtown is to test self-driving technology in the realistic conditions of an actual Michigan roadway.

It will feature building facades, parked vehicles, traffic signals, a tunnel, bicycle lanes and other realistic elements of a real street scape in Michigan.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring, and officials say the testing center will be ready by September. The initiative involves the university, government and representatives from the industry.

I’ve been following this closely, blogging frequently on various legal issues surrounding these driverless vehicles, such as who is liable if a self driving car causes a crash in Michigan.

It should be noted that the new law in Michigan already provides near total legal immunity for manufacturers and installers of driverless technology.

Self driving cars are exciting. They will one day prevent countless car accidents and will save tens of thousands of lives.  They will add millions of hours of productivity.  They may even possibly revamp the entire commercial trucking industry.  Imagine a world where there are no longer hours of service and fatigued drivers, but where trucks can transport goods nearly 24 hours a day.

But these new laws that are being created to allow driverless cars to take root and grow must also protect people injured in crashes in and with driverless vehicles. Otherwise, what are we protecting?

Related information:

Driverless cars are here

Why Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle is wrong on driverless cars

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