Verizon, Qualcomm among partners in Michigan test site for connected cars, autonomous vehicles

The University of Michigan last week opened its 32-acre simulated city, Mcity, in Ann Arbor, Mich., that it, along with partners like Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) and Qualcomm Technologies (NASDAQ:QCOM), will use to test connected car and automated vehicle technologies.

Mcity comes complete with street signs, construction cones and fake buildings. (Source: University of Michigan)

"It's not a test track. It's a test environment for automated and connected vehicles of the future, so this is where we're going to actually be figuring out how we get the incredible potential of connected and automated vehicles to be realized much faster. We learn very fast in a dense, complex environment like Mcity," said Peter Sweatman, director of the U-M Mobility Transformation Center, in a video posted online.

While it's probably safe to say no one wants to unleash connected cars and autonomous vehicles into the real world until they're thoroughly tested, pressure is afoot to get a move on when it comes to using dedicated short range wireless communications (DSRC) channels in the 5 GHz spectrum. The government allocated DSRC back in 1999 for a variety of smarter transportation purposes, but it's been slow to develop while demand for technologies like Wi-Fi is exploding.

Qualcomm, a stakeholder in both DSRC and Wi-Fi, in the past has argued that it is interested in achieving expeditious delivery of both critical driver safety communications technologies via the DSRC service and expanded Wi-Fi benefits via additional U-NII spectrum.

Amit Jain, director of corporate strategy of Internet of Things (IoT) verticals at Verizon, said the Mcity project will help create new vendor-agnostic and OEM-agnostic services that could improve road and pedestrian safety.

"Placing the onus on OEMs only to deploy technologies such as Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), for example, could take up to 37 years according to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA). That's why creating opportunities like Mcity to pool research and share best practices to expedite innovation is so important," he said in a press release.

"Consider the fact that there are more than 30,000 fatalities in the US annually caused by vehicle accidents--of which 14 percent of those fatalities involve pedestrians. As part of our participation in Mcity, we will be involved in tailored research to explore how smart phones can be used to further enhance vehicle-to-pedestrian communications," he said.

Mcity's environment includes a network of roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals, streetlights, building facades, sidewalks and construction obstacles. It's designed to support rigorous, repeatable testing of new technologies before they're tried out on public streets and highways, according to the university.

MIT Technology Review reports that companies with a stake in Mcity were on hand last week to showcase their technologies and give visitors a ride around the facility. Nokia's HERE division, which may be acquired by German auto makers any day now, showed one of the cars it uses to scan streets with high-resolution cameras and laser ranging instruments. Such data can be used by car companies to help vehicles navigate along streets. HERE scanned Mcity and made the data available to other companies, according to the publication.

Mcity was designed and developed by U-M's interdisciplinary MTC, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

For more:
- see this MIT Technology Review article
- see this BCN article
- see this Light Reading article
- see this RCR Wireless News article

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