Robot City Arrives to Develop Self-Driving Cars
There is a new city in Michigan. It has a four-lane highway, featuring both an off-ramp and an on-ramp. It boasts a traffic circle, a tunnel, a bridge, some gravel roads and some tight, twisting curves. It will have your traditional traffic jams notorious with all major cities, as well as many pedestrians.
Only none of it is real. Think of this city, then, as the Truman Show — except rather than hidden cameras and Jim Carrey, this city features robotic pedestrians and self-driving cars.
The 32-acre facility called “M City” cost $6.5 million to create, and it houses 40 fake building facades, reports Bloomberg. It is described as a proving ground for self-driving vehicles. The metropolis, located at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, will be capable of simulating the chaos of modern cities in a controlled environment, making development faster and easier for automakers and tech companies looking to test their new technologies.
Until now, machines like Google’s autonomous car have been testing on public roads, with a mandatory driver at the wheel ready to take over if necessary. To date, the Google car has been involved in 14 accidents, none of which were its own fault.
Other manufacturers take to the public roads, too, as well as utilizing their own private testing facilities. Audi has even been sending its autonomous vehicles to lap racetracks across the world.
You might think that real world testing would be preferable to a fake city, but the reality is that the unexpected scenarios we occur on the roads are too unpredictable to replicate time and time again — thus lacking usable data for automakers or tech companies to study. At M City, even the most unlikely situations can be replayed over and over to gather data and evaluate new approaches.
The pedestrians used in the city will all be robotic, programmed to sporadically step in front of traffic to ensure the autonomous cars react accordingly. The building facades can also be rearranged to adjust the settings in which the cars are testing.
So far, M City — created via a collaborative effort between the university’s Transportation Research Institute and the Michigan Department of Transportation — has already received numerous requests for visits from many of the leading automakers, including General Motors and Ford.
Automotive News reports that, between the automakers and the university, there are already 3,000 connected cars on the streets of Ann Arbor, all communicating together along with infrastructure such as traffic lights. By 2020 that number is expected to grow to 29,000. M City is a safe, purpose-built venue for automakers to test out their technologies prior to green-lighting them for further evaluation on public roads.
The Boston Consulting Group says that by 2035, a quarter of all vehicles sold globally will be self-driving (even today, many cars can be optioned with some form of autonomous components, like lane assist and self steering). That explains why automakers are investing such vast quantities of money in the technology, and why Google and possibly Apple are so keen to get in on the action.
As of now, M City is open for business. Its robotic pedestrians, including one named Sebastian, will throw itself in front of moving vehicles. Fake traffic jams will occur. And while there may not be Truman-like TV coverage documenting the goings on within this fake city, at least the results will soon be presenting themselves in the very cars we drive.
This article originally appeared on Yahoo.