Ford Motor Co. is now the second automaker to invest in the American Center for Mobility driverless vehicle test site. The automaker is putting $5 million into 335-acre facility, giving it a “founder-level” sponsorship.
The move follows Toyota’s $5 million donation earlier this year to help jump start the site, located at the former Willow Run bomber plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a western suburb of Detroit. It is expected to begin operations in December. AT&T is also a founding sponsor. The ACM is expected to cost $110 million.
Ken Washington, Ford vice president of research and advanced engineering and chief technology officer, noted the company’s investment keeps Michigan at the forefront of autonomous technology development.
“The work done at Willow Run will help drive mobility solutions across the globe,” Washington said in a statement. “This is an investment in the safe, rapid testing and deployment of transformative technology that will help improve peoples’ lives.”
(Toyota steers $5M to new autonomous vehicle test center near Detroit. For the story, Click Here.)
Ford’s donation means the ACM needs another $95 million to reach its fundraising goal for the site.
The American Center for Mobility is one of two autonomous vehicle development centers that will operate in the Detroit suburbs and be open to any automaker or supplier. The other is a smaller facility, dubbed MCity, operated by the University of Michigan.
The Ypsilanti complex is operated by a regional collaborative dubbed Planet M, and is being billed as a way to keep the State of Michigan at the center of the next era of automotive technology.
Many automakers, as well as automotive suppliers and specialty firms like Google spinoff Waymo, are already testing autonomous prototypes on public roads. And federal lawmakers are currently moving forward with proposals aimed at expanding public testing of the technology.
(To see why the American Center for Mobility keeps automotive focus in Michigan, Click Here.)
But experts contend that specialized test centers, such as the ACM and MCity, are still needed for the testing of more risky hardware and software.
“Not all test miles are created equal,” said Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota’s research center. “The road to creating a car as safe, or safer, than a human driver will require billions of test miles including simulation, real-world driving on public roads, and closed-course testing where we can expose our systems to extreme circumstances and conditions. The new ACM,” he added “is a significant step forward in this journey and will accelerate our ability to help prevent crashes and save lives.”
Proponents of autonomous vehicles, including Mark Rosekind, the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, contend that autonomous and driverless technology will lead to an era of virtually zero highway fatalities. Government data currently show that more than 90% of roadway deaths are caused by driver error.
(Deal to make Arsenal of Democracy the vanguard of autonomy complete. Click Here for the story.)
The American Center for Mobility is based at the edge of the still operational Willow Run Airport on the site of what was a former General Motors plant. During World War II it was used to produce B-24 bombers as part of the so-called Arsenal of Democracy.