Michigan’s American Center for Mobility Officially Opens

As the century-old home of America’s traditional auto industry, Michigan is now paving a path for a new generation of autonomous and connected vehicles.On April 5, Gov. Rick Snyder, along with executives from Microsoft, officially opened the American Center for Mobility (ACM), which is part of a far-ranging effort by the state government and private industry to advance the testing and development of self-driving vehicles, as well as mobility and enhanced safety technologies.

Housed in what was once a World War II bomber plant, the 500-acre site opened its doors for testing in December and is one of ten federally designated proving grounds for developing and testing self-driving vehicles.

The center hosts a variety of real-world test environments, including major pieces of infrastructure such as a 2.5-mile highway loop, a 700-foot curved tunnel, two double overpasses, intersections and roundabouts.

“Intelligent vehicle technology is evolving rapidly and Michigan is the world leader in making sure the mobility technologies driving the future are safely developed, tested and eventually deployed,” Snyder noted in a statement.

Microsoft will be the sole provider of data and cloud services at the ACM. Additionally, the company also helped the center design a cloud-based data management and analytics platform (DMAP) to collect, store and analyze test data.

“Vehicles are quickly becoming datacenters on wheels, and the opportunity to use the vast amounts of information generated to fuel innovation is unprecedented,” Microsoft’s vice president of artificial intelligence and intelligent cloud business development Kevin Dallas wrote in a statement, which also noted the software giant would also hold a position on the center’s Industry Advisory Board (IAB).

The joint initiative was founded in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and the University of Michigan, among others.

The center, located on the historic Willow Run site in Ypsilanti Township in southern Michigan, was initially built by Henry Ford as an advanced aircraft manufacturing facility during World War II.

It was redeveloped by General Motors in the 1950s as a powertrain plant that operated until 2010. Following that, the state began developing it as a new testing facility.

Additional phases of construction will add an urban intersection to the site as early as this summer. Then, a series of building facades and additional urban infrastructure elements are expected by the end of the year.

The expansion project also includes a headquarters and lab with demonstration space.

“ACM is staking its claim as the preeminent global hub for mobility companies to develop and test their connected technologies and vehicles in a safe and controlled environment,” ACM president and CEO John Maddox noted.

Maddox previously served as the associate administrator for Vehicle Safety Research at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and spent five years at Volkswagen as the company’s compliance officer.

The ACM itself boasts a powerful list of backers, including founders AT&T, Toyota, Ford and Hyundai America Technical Center — the latter two of which donated $5 million each to the center off the ground.

In June 2017 Maddox appeared before a US Senate committee in Washington DC, to testify on self-driving vehicle technology, where he stressed the importance of the work the ACM was doing to improve safety and reduce accidents through testing self-driving vehicles.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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