A non-profit company funded by the state of Michigan broke ground Monday near Detroit on a large-scale research center, aiming to capitalize on the global race to offer driverless vehicle technology.
The American Center for Mobility, to be built on 311 acres adjacent to Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Mich., bills itself as a testing facility for "future mobility" that will enable "safe validation ... to accelerate the development of voluntary standards."
As automakers, suppliers, software companies like Alphabet's (GOOGL) Google (GOOG) subsidiary and ride-hailing companies like Uber roll out prototype vehicles, the urgency to test, validate and create operating standards has grown. Much testing already takes place on public roadways and test tracks in Silicon Valley, Germany, Pittsburgh and other software development hotbeds.
Politicians and business interests in southeast Michigan, where the modern auto industry was born, are striving to ensure that Detroit hangs on as a capital of personal mobility. General Motors (GM) and Ford (F) , two of the city's original automakers, are quickly tweaking their business plans to compete against companies selling rides, not vehicles.
"What we offer, among other things, is a safer environment in a closed facility," said Jack Hu, vice president of research and development at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The university also operates a driverless tech testing facility called MCity, specializing in ventures to develop, among other things, communication protocols between vehicles.