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Michigan Uses Taxpayer Money To Build Fake City

The University of Michigan and Michigan’s Department of Transportation are working together to build a fake city with taxpayer money.

Why? To test driverless cars, of course.

They will be creating a realistic scenario without other cars or real drivers to test the new technology before automated cars hit the pavement, according to inhabitat. (RELATED: Google Debuts Prototype Of New Driverless Car)

This 30-acre fake city will be at University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Complex and has been designed specifically for testing the automated cars. This faux city, called the Mobility Transformation Facility, will be operated by U-M’s Mobility Transformation Center (MTC), which, according to a statement from the University of Michigan, is a public/private partnership that “aims to change how people and goods move around.” U-M’s College of Engineering is a university member of that center and donated funding for the facility.

In addition to the College of Engineering donating funds, the MTC is partnering with the Michigan Department of Transportation, which provided $3 million to help build the facility, according to MTC’s website.

This city is designed like a typical city with intersections, traffic lights, sidewalks, benches and simulated buildings. There will also be some obstacles or “risks” involved, such as construction barriers and crosswalks.

“We will actually be writing code for the test facility,” assistant professor of computer science and engineering Edwin Olson said in the U-M statement. ”We’ll be able to trigger tricky traffic signal timings, or a pedestrian stepping into the intersection at just the wrong time, for example.”

In addition, according to the MTC’s website, the city will also include different kinds of road surfaces (concrete, brick, dirt, asphalt), vary the number of lanes in a road and have tunnels and traffic circles.

U-M’s statement says the test city will “model the kind of connected and automated mobility system that the [Mobility Transformation Center] aims to enable in Ann Arbor by 2021.” And the system could ”dramatically reduce crashes, ease traffic and reduce pollution and energy use.”

And Peter Sweatman, the director of both the Mobility Transformation Center and the U-M Transportation Research Institute, said that such a system would have cars that could communicate with other cars and the rest of the world, not working as autonomous “islands unto themselves.”

The first car to be tested in this fake city is an automated Ford Fusion hybrid. Michigan Engineering researchers are working with Ford to create sensors and mapping technology for the car. (RELATED: Startup Creates Autopilot To Make Any Car Driverless [VIDEO])

And the testing that they’ll be doing can be changed for ever lap around the city, said Associate Professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering Ryan Eustice in the same statement.

Eustice said, “That will give us a leg up on getting these vehicles mature and robust and safe.”

MTC said that the facility should be open by fall 2014.

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