April 06, 2016
Just about every major automaker in the world is working hard at the moment to make the concept of driverless vehicles into a reality on our streets and highways. The technology to allow cars to steer, brake and navigate without any driver input is progressing rapidly, but getting vehicles to interact safely with the rest of the environment and other road users is another matter entirely. It obviously requires a huge amount of virtual, controlled and real-world testing before this technology can be unleashed into the retail market. That's why Toyota is now turning the streets of Ann Arbor, Mich. into what will now effectively be the world's largest operational, real-world deployment of connected vehicles and infrastructure.
The project is actually a partnership between Toyota, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). The overall aim of the partnership is to harvest and analyze data about connected cars and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. In Ann Arbor, the Japanese auto giant is planning to deploy as many as 5,000 vehicles over the coming years in what will become the planet's largest real-world test-site for connected cars and associated infrastructure.
UMTRI director, James R. Sayer, said of the project, "Ann Arbor is an international hub for connected vehicle technology and research, and it has everything to do with the community. Toyota is again demonstrating their commitment to the community by their investment in the recently announced TRI, and by encouraging employees to participate in cutting edge research."
The operation is being dubbed the Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment (AACVTE), and will carry out research and development work into vehicle-to-vehicle communication and communication with infrastructure such as traffic signals.
There won't be a huge amount to give away the identity of vehicles being tested on the roads of Ann Arbor. The test vehicles will house a small transponder box that will be hidden away out of sight inside the trunks of cars belonging to Toyota team members and their families, while a pair of small antennas will be situated near the rear windshield, with another on the trunk lid or roof. Signals will be transmitted and received between vehicles and/or surrounding infrastructure, such as at intersections, which will result in the monitoring of everyday driving behavior. The automaker is hoping to roll out something like 1,500 vehicles per year to test in the 27 square miles of Ann Arbor.
What limits connected vehicle testing beyond that of closed circuit test tracks is the simple lack connected vehicles. To move the vision of autonomous driving closer towards reality, the testing environment needs more cars, more drivers and more everyday miles travelled than is realistically possible with any combination of confined research facilities. The AACVTE begins to solve this problem.
The AACTVE initiative is to all intents and purposes an expansion of a previous Ann Arbor-based connected-car research project, which originally began back in 2012 with an investment of $30 million and was conducted by UMTRI and USDOT. Toyota's involvement will significantly enlarge the fleet of vehicles undergoing testing as well as the geographical scale of the testing, both of which should essentially accelerate the drive toward real-world driverless vehicles. It's expected that this particular study will become a blueprint as far as the nation-wide implementation of connected-car and vehicle-to-vehicle technology is concerned.