If you have any doubt about how quickly self-driving cars are coming to the road, check out M City in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The 32-acre closed environment test site includes four miles of roads packed with different traffic scenarios, from city driving to highway entrance ramps, to rural roads with railroad crossings. The idea: Create as many situations as possible for testing self-driving cars.
The $6.5 million facility, which officially opened Monday on the University of Michigan's campus, is the latest sign that auto companies are all-in when it comes to autonomous-drive vehicles.
"Humans can certainly recognize the environment. Can the machines recognize the environment is the big question," said Peter Sweatman, director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
Nearly every automaker, including General Motors and Ford, has been working on autonomous-drive technology on closed courses. Their work has received relatively little attention. By comparison, Google and its self-driving prototypes have been the focus of numerous stories, as they've been tested for more than a million miles in real-world traffic.
Though the headlines are not always positive—including reports of another accident involving one of Google's vehicles last week, which the company attributed to driver error in the other car—this has helped create the impression that the future of self-driving technology is in the Silicon Valley, not in southeastern Michigan.
"I am really pleased that Silicon Valley is pushing so hard because what it has done is really wake up the industry here in Michigan," Sweatman said.
"We are excited by what is happening out in Silicon Valley, but the millions and millions of cars that are sold out on the roads in this country and around the world are really originating from this state and that will continue," he said.
Despite the technological gains across both industries, many drivers are still reluctant to get behind the wheel of one of these vehicles. A study released by SurveyMonkey last week, which questioned 505 people, found that 43.8 percent of respondents had no interest in self-driving cars, while 40.6 percent said they prefer vehicles with partial autonomous-drive technology.
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