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Mcity is a proving ground for future mobility innovations. Auto Futures talks with Greg McGuire, Managing Director of Mcity, to learn how the test facility is leading research in autonomy, connectivity and safety in transportation.

Mcity is associated with the University of Michigan (U-M). Mcity is located at U-M’s North Campus Research Center Complex in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“Mcity focuses on the intersection of academia, government and industry, all three as a partnership. The problems and the potential solutions in transportation require all three of those parties at the table. There aren’t always just technical solutions. Sometimes, they are law, policy, and societal questions. You need all those three groups for solutions,” says McGuire.

Uniqueness Counts at Mcity

The facility has a 5G system like Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners However, Mcity’s focus is unique. Michigan also offers diverse weather conditions.

“We get it all in Michigan, most of the time. Some of the times we get all four seasons in one day,” says McGuire about Michigan weather.

Mcity is about 16 acres of road and city. It was built as a proving ground to test the bones and muscles of transportation systems. It is built for durability, powertrain and handling tests. It represents a real community and not a flat parking lot. It can be used for testing traction control and testing real-world automation, says McGuire.

On a typical day, visitors might see researchers filling a tunnel with smoke, looking at the ability for sensors to see people through wildfire smoke,” says McGuire. Researchers found that thermal cameras in the infrared spectrum can see through smoke.

“They can see humans and animals and things that might be obscured by fog or by smoke. The sensors can improve the safety of self-driving cars tomorrow and improve the safety of the cars you and I are riding in today,” says McGuire.

On another day, then you might see an automaker developing cooperative perception.

Mcity is designed as a city and can test transportation in a city.

A lot of the hard parts of testing are actually in cities and in communities where you have to interact with people. Mcity has features such as human-robot proxies with body heat and fake deer, reports McGuire.

Patricia Mullaney

How Mcity Syncs AR with Cars And More

Mcity offers augmented reality (AR). The facility is synchronized with a computer simulation. Simulation can create hundreds or more vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians in the simulation that can be synchronized with the real facility.

“We can get a realistic test out of the vehicle by using this augmented reality. It blends the test world of simulation with the more traditional world of track testing, and I think we get the best of both worlds that way,” says McGuire.

All kinds of vehicles can be tested – bi-ped robots with two legs, small electric buses and low speed automated vehicles lie the ones from EZMile and Navya.

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Neighbouring Michigan Cities

The city of Ann Arbor, the city of Detroit, and the nearby community of Ypsilanti are critical partners for Mcity.

Real environments are needed for real data on how residents behave. The city of Ann Arbor is a key partner for data. Mcity is working with Ann Arbor on a DOT project for advanced transportation and congestion management technologies deployment (ATCMTD) for three years.

The project is instrumenting twenty intersections in Ann Arbor, with cameras and radar at the intersection on traffic light poles. The people, cars and other factors are turned into vectors. They broadcast that information to anyone who wants to listen.

“We are looking at how can we improve intersection safety and preserve the privacy of residents,” says McGuire.


Mcity’s Partners, Research And Future

Mcity works closely with U-M Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). Mcity and UMITRI are working on motion sickness research needed for autonomous driving. They have also proposed standards for autonomous driving.

“We have proposed some standards and mechanisms of tests that a company could employ to help develop general public a level of trust in autonomous driving,” explains McGuire.

Mcity is partnering with Verizon Wireless for testing V2X and next-generation 5G systems and safety.

Due to COVID, there was a significant decline in public transit use. Mcity worked with May Mobility and Michigan Economic Development Corporation to develop A2GO to augment public transit. A2GO is a free, public, on-demand autonomous shuttle with fixed shuttle stop locations.

“We are running a one-year pilot to see if we can reduce the number of cars people are bringing into this into the city every day and let them rely on services like A2GO instead. To test if it will help reduce congestion and improve the quality of life for the city.” 

Mcity is working with UMTRI on testing automated wheelchair securement. Wheelchair securement is hard to automate. There are over 1500 different models of wheelchairs sold in the US and they are all different, McGuire reports.


In Michigan there are many companies that can build and prototype automotive designs.

“We have a lot of engineering talent. I think that is one of the strengths of Michigan and one of the things where you can see a partnership between Silicon Valley and the Midwest manufacturing,” says McGuire.

In the future, he says they are looking at ways to make Mcity available for use by a broader swath of academia. “We would like to enable more research beneficial to the whole country.”

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