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Toyota Invests in Michigan Driverless Test Center

by Justin Tejada
In December, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a bill that allows the testing of self-driving cars on public roads in the state. In doing so, he propelled Michigan into the ranks of US states, including California and Nevada, which have greatly benefited from leading the way on autonomous vehicle innovation.

"I'm excited to sign this bill," said Snyder at the time. "In my heart I view this as a portal opening for safety, for opportunity for more economic success. We should be proud we're leading the world, right here in Michigan."

Automakers and other companies in the self-driving car space are already taking advantage in exciting ways. In July, the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation co-piloted a self-driving car equipped with Magna and Continental technology across the border between the US and Canada.

This fall, Navya will operate two autonomous shuttles for members of the University of Michigan community in Ann Arbor.

While access to public roads is invaluable for AV testers, they need private facilities, as well. After all, if all self-driving car technology were completely ready for the roads, it would already be omnipresent. Engineers need private testing facilities to fine-tune existing tech and pioneer the development of ambitious new ones.

Private AV testing facilities in Michigan got a boost recently when Toyota announced that it would be making a $5 million contribution to the American Center for Mobility, a self-driving vehicle research center currently being built in Ypsilanti Township.

"As we move forward with the development of autonomous cars, we must remember that not all test miles are created equal," Toyota Research Institute CEO Gill Pratt wrote in a statement. "The road to creating a car as safe, or safer, than a human driver will require billions of test miles including simulation, real-world driving on public roads, and closed-course testing where we can expose our systems to extreme circumstances and conditions."

The ACM, which is a non-profit organization, is in the process of raising $110 million for the total costs of the facility. It has currently raised $91 million in funding from public and private sources, according to president and CEO John Maddox. Toyota was the first automaker to contribute, representing a significant vote of confidence for the new facility.

"I'm excited about our collaboration with Toyota," Maddox wrote. "Today's announcement is another example of Toyota's forward-looking vision and ability to move quickly on developing this potentially beneficial connected and automated technology."

The ACM is part of the state of Michigan's Planet M initiative, a large-scale private-public partnership seeking to establish the state as a center of the growing connected car and autonomous vehicle industry. The participation of a heavy hitter like Toyota reads as a positive sign for Michigan's efforts.

"Toyota deserves our thanks and praise for this significant investment in the American Center for Mobility," US Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) wrote in a statement. "This is not only an investment in ACM, but is another strong sign that Michigan continues to lead the way in the future of mobility and innovation."

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