Subaru Also Investing in American Center for Mobility

Projects that promote the development of autonomous vehicles are natural candidates for public-private partnerships, because AV advancement figures to greatly benefit both sectors.

Touted as the future of transportation, self-driving cars could someday represent the vast majority of the automotive market, and they open up the automotive category to new types of businesses.

As for the general public, driverless vehicles could improve quality of life in several different ways. AV technology may someday greatly reduce on-road deaths and injuries, eliminate the expenses and hassle of private vehicle ownership and offer newfound mobility to disabled or elderly people who are unable to drive themselves.

Perhaps the most common type of autonomous vehicle project on which public and private entities collaborate are testing grounds, such as the American Center for Mobility (ACM) in Ypsilanti, Township, Mich. The 500-acre site, situated on a former bomber plant, offers miles of roads for testing self-driving cars. It exists thanks to investment from both the State of Michigan and various private investors.

The ACM gained another investor in January when Subaru announced it would contribute $2 million to the facility.

According to Kaminga Shirakawa, vice president of Subaru Research and Development, the involvement at the American Center for Mobility is not only an opportunity for the Japanese automaker to test its autonomous vehicle technology, but also to further entrench itself in the American market.

“The U.S. market has long been a very important part of the success of Subaru, and as so, it is a major goal of ours to create a product that will be appealing to the U.S. customer,” saidShirakawa. “We are looking forward to working with ACM in the future development of the facility and using this impressive resource to provide the highest quality products possible.”

The ACM has already secured $110 million of its targeted fundraising goal of $135 million. The state of Michigan has contributed $35 million has waived the center’s property taxes — which would amount to about $1.9 million annually — for the first 15 years. The rest of ACM’s funding comes from private investors.

Automakers involved in the project include Toyota, Ford and Hyundai. Other companies, like AT&T and Visteon, have also invested, largely so they can test futuristic connected car technology on the ACM’s tracks.

With limited opportunities to test driverless cars on public roads, especially in the early stages of development, developers rely heavily on closed courses like the one at the American Center for Mobility. The ACM features a 2.5-mile highway loop, a 700-foot curved tunnel, two double overpasses and various types of intersections and roundabouts.

Its location is also notable.

In the ACM’s first day of operation on December 11, engineers from Visteon found themselves testing in a full-on snow storm. This was far from reason to pack up and go home. Inclement weather offers a significant challenge to AV sensors of all types, and testing in a blizzard allows developers to perfect how their systems deal with these conditions.


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