As automakers, countries and even regions vie for the pole position in the race to develop autonomous vehicles, metropolitan Detroit and the surrounding Southeast Michigan vicinity want to become the dominant area for self-driving car testing. And the region just got a step closer with an additional $17 million in funding from the state of Michigan to turn the shuttered General Motors Willow Run powertrain plant that closed in 2010 into an autonomous car research facility called the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti.
With $2.9 million committed to the project last March, the new funds bring the total investment by the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) to $20 million. The money will be used to purchase land at the site and to begin designing and constructing the facility.
The land is currently owned by RACER Trust, an entity set up in 2009 during GM’s bankruptcy to sell vacant property. An entity called the Willow Run Arsenal of Democracy(after the nickname for the plant when it produced B-24 bombers during WWII) will purchase the land from RACER Trust, according to The Detroit News.
The development of the American Center for Mobility would add to the Detroit area self-driving car testing footprint already established by the University of Michigan’s MCity. Opened a year ago, MCity features realistic streets and traffic infrastructure such as red lights and stop signs and even faux storefronts.
U-M said that the 335-acre American Center for Mobility will complement the smaller 18-acre MCity site “by offering an opportunity for larger-scale research, development, testing and validation due to both the size of the facility and more diverse infrastructure.” U-M will also coordinate the design and operation of the two facilities.
“We’re getting a lot of attention around the nation and really around the world and that’s really because the state of Michigan is investing in this,” said John Maddox, president and CEO of the American Center for Mobility. “Ultimately it’s in the best interest of the state to preserve the future of our automotive industry,” added Steve Arwood, president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and chairman of the Strategic Fund board.
But the $20 million in new funding only gets the American Center for Mobility a quarter of the way toward its goal. The nonprofit organization that’s also backed by University of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Transportation, Business Leaders for Michigan and Ann Arbor SPARK, needs an additional $60 million to fully fund the construction of city streets, suburban cul-de-sacs, bridges, tunnels and other traffic infrastructure.
Michigan Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow along with U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell have pushed for funding for the American Center for Mobility, and for Southeast Michigan to lead to the way in developing and testing autonomous vehicles. “We know we need a national testing and validation site,” Peters told the New York Times last week. “We need one in place where all the auto companies can come together,” he added.
Originally Published by Forbes.com