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Out-Of-State Investors Are Using Desolate Detroit As A Mini Laboratory For Self-Driving Vehicles

Technology companies are using the abandoned streets of Detroit, Mich., as laboratories to determine how people interact with self-driving electric vehicles.

Researchers at the University of Michigan are carving out parts of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Detroit to create testing grounds for high-tech vehicles. Detroit lost half its population during the past decade as manufacturing jobs left town. Now out-of-state investors and tech groups are filling the void.

Major car manufacturers, computer chip makers, and wireless companies are funding what they call M-City, a public-private partnership that tests out self-driving vehicles at Ann Arbor. M-City receives more than $1 million a year to research how cities should be designed around electric cars.

“There’s a lot of disruption happening in a very short time frame,” Greg McGuire, M-City Lab Director, told reporters Thursday. “We’re running living laboratories” to test how people interact with electric vehicles and other new technologies.

A lot of university researchers are pushing to start companies that tackle aspects of self-driving vehicles before Silicon Valley companies like Tesla become mainstays in the state, Emily Heintz, associate director of the Michigan Venture Capital Association, told reporters.

More than 78 percent of the total capital invested in Michigan startups came from out-of-state investors, according to Heintz’s group. One major investor from Taiwan dumped billions of dollars into the city’s new technology shift.

Foxconn Technology Group, the world’s largest contract manufacturer of consumer electronics, reportedly pumped billions of dollars into Michigan in August. The new investment will focus on automated vehicle technology.

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