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November 19, 2014 - Image 11

Resource type:
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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-11-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

6B Wednesday November19, 2014 // The Statement
On North Campus, a city of driverless vehicles
by Paula Friedrich

v

w

J ust under
the cloud-
flecked Ann
Arbor water tower,
.,_a tiny city is being
built. Curving
asphalt streets
are the only hint
of the project, but
once the asphalt
hardens, build-
ings will be raised,
stoplights strung
up and simulated
pedestrians will
be programmed.
These 32 acres at
the edge of North
Campus will be
home to the Mobil-
ity Transforma-
tion Center's Test
Facility, a complex
built to develop
automated, driver-
less vehicles.
Scheduled to
officially open in
Spring 2015, the
center's test facili-
ty is one of the first
of its kind.
"In actuality, there's probably nothing
else quite like it in the world," said Jim Sayer,
the MTC's deployment director in an inter-
view with The Michigan Daily.
The University has quietly been moving
itself to the forefront of the study and devel-
opment of automated and connected vehicle
technologies. The two terms are similar, but
distinct: Connected vehicles will warn the
driver if traffic is slowing down up ahead,
while automated vehicles take that informa-
tion one step further and actually decrease
the car's speed.
Cars are "connected" to other cars and
to infrastructure through wireless signals.
Traffic lights, for example, might constantly
be broadcasting whether they're at green,
yellow or red. The connected car would
then let the driver know that it's not worth
slowing down because the light is about to
change. The automated car would hit the
brakes.
A fleet of nearly 3,000 connected cars,
trucks and buses were deployed for use on
Ann Arbor streets in 2012 but testing the
full potential of this technology has proved
tricky.
Sayer said that first deployment made
it clear that there was "a lot of movement
working toward automated vehicles," but
that there was no good way to test them
without raising safety concerns.
Automated cars not only react to other
connected vehicles and infrastructure, but
also sense their surroundings with the help

of cameras, lasers, radars and other image
sensing technologies. These are constantly
surveying and calculating so that a vehicle
can react in unexpected situations, like
someone suddenly crossing the street. But
testing to see if the car will do that reliably
isn't something that can be done at the inter-
section of State Street and South University
Avenue.
Two years ago, when Sayer and col-
leagues were sketching bare-bone plans for
the facility, researchers in the field were
closing down parking lots on campus to test
their technologies.
Engineering Associate Prof. Ryan Eustice
said his work on autonomous vehicles for
the Ford Motor Company allowed him to
use their test track. He said the industry test
track looks like an "asphalt lake"- flat, with-
out anything for an automated car to recog-
nize and react to. Eustice said cars need to
be tested to their limit, so the testing space
should be one where a car can safely spin
out when they reach it. Researchers lacked a
way to test automated vehicles in real world
situations, without actually putting them in
the real world.
So Sayer and his team started planning,
trying to figure out how to pack as many
variations of traffic landscapes, signals and
scenarios into 32 acres as possible.
"When folks come out and see it, they're
really surprised by how much we really did
think about," Sayer said. "How much we
were able to cram in and the level of flex-

ibility that's really going to be able to be
afforded."
Sayer said the Mobility Transformation
Center worked closely with a committee
that included researchers from the College
of Engineering, like Eustice, as well as rep-
resentatives from the Michigan Department
of Transportation, like Matt Smith, program
manager for the DOT's Intelligent Trans-
portation Systems program. The group
came together to create a "wish list" of
roundabouts and traffic signals, which was
then handed off to a design firm that worked
through the details.
"It was a very iterative processbecause
we started off with just kind of a white board
so to speak," said Smith. "An open slate with
whatever you want and heck, by the third
or fourth iteration of the process - lo and
behold you had a pretty detailed design of
what the facility is going to look like."
Sayer said that design combines common
driving scenarios with anything that would
be "particularly challenging" for connected
and automated vehicles to deal with: round-
abouts, unpredictable, pedestrian crossings
and railroad grate crossings. Traffic signage
is one of the most difficult things for the
technology to contend with simply because
of the amount and variety of postings.
"Is it mounted on a pole that's on the
opposite side of the road that you're trying to
cross? Is it strung across the roadway diag-
onally? Is it mounted on a pole right at the
stop-bar where you're told to stop?" Sayer

explained.
The challenges are compounded
by the fact that traffic signals are
sometimes written right onto the
road or whipping around on a par-
ticularly windy day. Sayer said that
putting this facility in Michigan
meant that vehicles would also have
to deal with all kinds of inclement
weather.
The MTC worked closely with
the Michigan Department of Trans-
portation to ensure the model city
would be representative of common
traffic situations and ensure all ele-
ments of the facility would be built
to roadway standards. This meant
following MDOT's construction
codes, though not necessarily the
most up to date ones.
"We had to kind of convince the
architects that we did not want to
do that," Eustice said. "We actually
wanted to build things that were
not actually code anymore in some
cases."
Real roads have infrastructure
built to all kinds of different codes.
f This historical layering is what
gives a city its character. The MTC's
ACILITY city, however, will be able to switch
characters. Researchers will have
their choice of multiple sets of signs - Ameri-
can or international, pristine or weathered.
"I got to spend time digging through a
recycle bin at a local municipality salvag-
ing signs that were no longer good enough
for them to have on the street," said Sayer.
"Either because they had faded or they had
graffiti all over them or they had been hit and
were bent."
Like a giant lego set, the only thing that
won't move are the streets - even the build-
ings can be adjusted. They aren't up yet, but
Sayer explained that they will essentially
be giant theater facades. They might be
crammed right up next to the street to simu-
late an old European city or placed 15 feet
away from the curb like homes in suburbia.
"These are all things that automated vehi-
cles are going to have to be able to detect in
the future," said Sayer. "Currently there is a
lot of variation in the way this information is
conveyed to the driver. The driver can differ-
entiate it, the question is how well the auto-
mated vehicles are going to be able to detect
and make sense of the variety of traffic con-
trol signal configurations and signs that are
out there."
That's the question the facility hopes
to help answer come 2015. For individual
researchers, however, they're just itching to
get in.
"I'm one of the guys that's been in these
coned-off parking lots for the last couple
years testing their stuff," said Eustice. "I'm
ready to be user number one."

ILLUSTRATION BY MAGGIE MILLER

n light of the news that HRH
Kate Middleton and Prince
William will be visiting New
York City next month, it is only
fitting to discuss the enigma that
is the royal family. It's so puzzling
to me that I, as a proud citizen of
this glorious democracy, am just
one of the millions of Americans
who are oh so very emotionally
invested in everything regard-
ing the royals. Come on, don't act
like you didn't wake up at 4 a.m.
to see the former commoner Kate
Middleton walk into Westminster
Abbey (followed closely by Pippa's
infamous derriere) only to exit as
the future queen of England. We all
know it happened, so don't deny it.
There is no question that the
royal family became the trend-
ing topic after Kate Middleton
quite literally lived out every girl's
dream and became a princess -
from (upper middle class) rags to
riches, they say. But can you blame
us? She is perfection. Her hair is
always on point and she is basically

Sarah Burton's personal Barbie to
dress. And last year, she added the
most in-demand accessory to her
person: Prince George (take that
North).
It's not like the royal family
does much. Kate has some chari-
ties she's involved in, William is
very "militaristic," Harry likes to
play a game of pool while naked
in Las Vegas and the Queen is a
sweet, old grandma who likes to
shower her family with money
and presents - how is this dif-
ferent from any typical American
family, really?
I don't have a problem with my
royal obsession, in fact, I embrace
it. So should you; don't be ashamed
to be emotionally invested in the
lives of the (filthy) rich and fabu-
lous. And yes, while American
"royalty" does also exist, it is just
not the same, which is why I am
currently plotting on how to join
Kate across the pond in Bucking-
ham Palace since Prince Harry has
a full head of hair and is single.

famous by association:
we'll (never) be royals?

THE THOUGHT BUBBLE

"Well, (education) is a powerful tool ... People have been fighting for education since
forever and, you know, I think it's the one tool that sort of can propagate you from an
underdeveloped person - or, if you look wider - a country itself, to a developed nation,
It's the only tool that I think is the most powerful in helping you expand your horizons,
and expand yourself."
-AMIRAH AMER, LSA FRESHMAN

RPRINTS: A TOAST
"A TOAS r _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __________ _________
I LOVE W4RitJG' 1! l \\i/,ARE YOU
CAW FOR AI
BY ANDREW FULLER

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