M City sounds like something out of a Bond film, but it's being built right now and soon it will be crawling with driverless cars and robot pedestrians. The 32-acre facility will open this summer at the University of Michigan's Mobility Transformation Center, testing the latest in autonomous technology as well as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications. M City will put autonomous cars through their paces in a fake city with over 40 phony buildings, five-lane roads, roundabouts, a bridge, tunnel, gravel roads, traffic signals, construction barriers, obstructed views and even a highway entrance ramp. Proving autonomous technology is safe, without any blood loss, is the goal. The stakes are high. A report from McKinsey & Co. estimates that widespread adoption of autonomous cars would reduce accidents by 90 percent, which would drop property damage and medical costs by $190 billion a year. The report predicts that as accidents drop off, rates for insuring new cars will drop dramatically, with insurers shifting their focus from driver-induced accidents to technical failures.
Are we there yet? Nope
"M City will allow us to test emerging technologies and systems at a safe, off-roadway site to evaluate effectiveness and reliability," says David R. Lampe with the University of Michigan Office of Research. While M City will be hosting technology that may not hit mainstream cars for decades, automakers will also be testing the semi-autonomous systems that might let you take your hands off the wheel (in certain situations) in the very near future. But how different are fully autonomous cars from the technology that is reaching showrooms now? The answer varies depending on whom you ask, as does the timeline for a fully autonomous production car. But pretty much everyone agrees that the future of transportation will be altered forever once the change occurs.