ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — The future of the automotive industry and the future of Michigan’s overall economy are inexorably linked — so much so that lawmakers are working on bills to make Michigan the first state to allow driverless cars on roads.
That future is already on display at a unique site in Ann Arbor called Mcity, where new safety features for connected and autonomous vehicles are tested.
Often, self-driving cars are the first thing that people think of when talking about such research, but that’s just part of the future of mobility.
“Autonomous vehicle is certainly one possibility, but we need to think about a total solution. Sometimes what you need is not an autonomous vehicle,” Huei Peng, the director of Mcity, explained.
He said walking, biking, mass transit and autonomous or self-driving cars will all have a place moving forward.
The other big component is cars that utilize drivers and some really smart technology. That’s what Gov. Rick Snyder saw when he buckled in to a test vehicle at Mcity last week.
In one example, new connected technology caused an alarm to sound in the governor’s vehicle when another car up ahead braked suddenly. Even though the braking car was obscured by other traffic, the driver had plenty of time to react.
The incremental addition of safety features like that will ultimately lead to an autonomous vehicle. In the meantime, the goal is to improve safety in the vehicles we’re already using.
It’s that kind of connected technology testing that has Mcity at capacity and Snyder looking to expand. He says turning the old Willow Run Airport near Ypsilanti into the a similar facility called the American Center for Mobility will keep Michigan in the forefront of the automotive and mobility business. Mcity is 32 acres; the American Center for Mobility would be 335 acres.
“It’s critically important,” the governor said of encouraging mobility technology. “This is about part of Michigan’s future. That’s how important this is.”
“The automotive industry is moving to mobility. How do we make sure we’re leading in that so as those days arrive, we’re already pre-positioned to keep that leadership in this wonderful industry?” he continued.
The American Center for Mobility would be shared by multiple auto companies an manufactures, just like Mcity.
The state Senate has already approved a set of bills to create the center and the House will likely look at the package before the end of the year.