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The American Center for Mobility (ACM) is a large diverse testing community for new mobility technology. The facility offers many services for testing connected, autonomous and safety systems. Auto Futures talked to Dawn Thompson, Director of Marketing. She details the landscape of the facility and available services.

The 500-acre ACM facility is built on the grounds of the former Ford B-24 bomber plant.

The site features a 2.5-mile highway loop, a 700-foot curved tunnel, two double overpasses, intersections and roundabouts. Roads were donated by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“ACM is huge. It is bigger than 100 city blocks and about the size of Monaco. It is three times the size of Disneyland,” says Thompson.

“Class eight trucks can go 65 miles-per-hour autonomously on the highway loop safely. They can stop in the middle of the highway. You cannot do that in the real world. We built environments with the most dangerous driving scenarios,” she adds.

Located in Ypsilanti, Michigan, ACM is near the Willow Run Airport and 15 miles from the Detroit Metro Airport.

Michigan state leaders, industry leaders, and universities brainstormed what to do with the land. They ultimately decided on a connected autonomous vehicle test center, says Thompson.

The American Center for Mobility was founded in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the University of Michigan, Business Leaders for Michigan and Ann Arbor SPARK.

Thompson says ACM is a unique entity that works between government, industry, and academia. It provides the grounds for research and development as well as services to test and validate emerging vehicle technologies. It helps accelerate the mobility industry by providing a neutral platform for important work.

The industry informed ACM on how to build the facility and the kinds of technology infrastructure needed for testing. The center partnered with Microsoft for data management, AT&T for 5G and Siemens for Simulation. Ford, Toyota, Hyundai and Visteon are founding partners.

“We continue to grow our community and ecosystems of industry partners and government liaisons,” she says, “ACM is a shared infrastructure. It would be way too expensive for any one company to build this type of facility and manage it. So, companies find great value in being here.”

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The Smart Mobility Test Center – Perfectly Imperfect

ACM is not just providing the roads it provides the technology, staff, engineering services and test equipment.

Test equipment includes soft targets, vehicle targets and pedestrian targets.

“We’ve got a pedestrian on a bike target. We have cones. We can provide all the test equipment needed,” says Thompson.

Testing is available during all four seasons. ACM has snow ploughs and salt trucks for winter.

Snow and ice can be made. They have a rain gantry that can hang above bridges or in the tunnel to make rain pour down. The facility is available 24 hours for day and night testing.

“We did not make it perfect. The engineers like to say that it is perfectly imperfect,” says Thompson.

She points out that most proving grounds have perfect pavements and lines. ACM rerouted real roads. The roads have potholes and cracks. Grass grows on the side. There are different kinds of pavement. There is concrete and asphalt, and it all looks different. There are lane lines that have been put down and painted over and moved.

Off-road areas are meant to be challenging. There are different unpaved areas and inclines and declines. There is a gravel pit and a mud pit and a bumpy road.

The grounds can be customised at open pad areas where testers can put down lane lines, cones and shipping containers to create their own scenarios.

“We can remap any area – like a roundabout in the middle of Paris. Instead of testing in the actual city, you can remap to make it like a city like a specific city,” says Thompson.

Intertek operates the track and brings engineering expertise. Intertek offers a large portfolio of services. Intertek can help create a test plan, could run the test plan and create the reports. They can do all of the project management, any piece or all of it, says Thompson.

ACM has garage facilities that they can rent short-term or long-term.

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Testing the Brains of Vehicle Through Tunnels & More

“We are not trying to test the vehicle durability or how well it drives – we are trying to test the brain. If it can make decisions, and if it can see in edge cases like going up the hill around the corner, or going through a tunnel that goes into a curve. Or it gets really dark and the vision systems can’t see and it’s cut off from communications and it’s going around a curve, and then it comes out and there’s this bright light at the end of the tunnel – the vision systems have to be able to adjust for that,” says Thompson.

The staff can add things into the edge cases such as a Styrofoam car, which is called a soft target. Then the cars don’t get damaged, says Thompson.

Testers can use simulation tools in augmented reality via the Safe AI Framework for Trustworthy Edge Scenario Tests (SAFE TEST).

“The augmented reality program makes the vehicle think that there are cars on the road and makes it think that there is a deer crossing,” says Thompson.

The Naturalistic and Adversarial Driving Environment (NADE) system tests long-tail, ‘black swan’ unexpected rare events.

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The Voice of the Industry

“The industry is evolving until one day there will be connected autonomous vehicles. We’re working towards that with industry, government and academia to make sure there’s a workforce and the policies exist in the right way through ongoing meetings,” says Thompson.

“We’re not just a track – Between our government or academia and our industry partners, we act as a voice of the industry for thought leadership and knowledge exchange.”

The community has several committees. The technology committee helps to inform what kind of technologies are needed and evaluate new technologies. The Standards Committee looks at new standards. Competing companies work together to track and test new standards for vehicle connectivity, autonomy, electrification, cybersecurity and more, she says.

The facility also offers training for ADAS/AV test drivers.

Offsite, ACM operates The Detroit Smart Parking Lab in Detroit to test parking, mobility technologies, logistics and electric vehicle charging. It features 41 parking spaces, offices, and technology/engineering support services. It has test equipment and traffic detection technology.

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Startups & Marketing

ACM works with the Michigan Mobility Funding platform that helps and provides grants to startups. Participants in the program can use any testing facility in Michigan.

Marketing opportunities are available. Daimler invested in ACM to build out off-road areas to demonstrate the capabilities of their Class-8 truck. The facility can hold 1,000 people for vehicle launches and test drives.

For marketing to the community, ACM offers onsite digital signage, a digital directory, webinars and meetup events.

The staff helps book hotels, caterers, restaurants, additional vehicles to run tests and shuttles to move people around, explains Thompson.

She invites mobility industry companies to visit The American Center for Mobility website, set up virtual meetings or experience virtual tours of the facility.


The Future Innovations at ACM

In the future, ACM is looking at electrification testing or other power uses for the 90-megawatt substation formerly used to power a factory. It aims to build offices, research and industrial buildings.

Thompson says: “We are working with Colliers International to find companies who want to build on the grounds and be part of that community. We work through partnerships that are a super important part of our organization.”

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