Talk about making the best of a bad situation. Rather than talking about how much of a danger the many potholes which plague Michigan streets and highways, they are instead talking about how great of an opportunity it presents for companies looking to test out their driverless automobiles.
As Michigan and California battle it out for who will control the future of the driverless car industry, each have proposed crumbling WWII military sites are the perfect place to test cars steered by computer.
Michigan has a secret weapon up it’s sleeves though: Bigger and better potholes.
That is why Michigan plans to build a test track out of a 330-acre industrial ghost town near Ypsilanti. This would replace the industrial site where Riveter built B-24 bombers during World War II. Those who support the project say that the brutal winters which Michigan endures make it a superior proxy due to it’s imperfections than California’s decommissioned Navy base located in Concord.
Democratic congresswoman in favor of Ypsilanti explained that, “California is not the real world — they don’t have four seasons. We’ve got real potholes. It’s a much more real-world scenario.”
President Obama Proposes $4 Billion For Development of Self-Driving Cars
At stake between the two states is nearly $4 billion in federal funding which President Barack Obama last month proposed for the development of self-driving cars. Although nothing has been passed in Congress, there is more at stake than just the government funding as reported by Bloomberg.
Whichever state is approved for the funding, should Congress pass it, would press ahead in the race for control of the connected car.
Randy Iwasaki is the executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, which currently oversees the California site which has been dubbed GoMentum Station, which housed munitions underground during the war. When asked about the possible $4 billion in funding, Iwasaki said “We’re going to compete for that $4 billion — you can plan on that. May the best organization win,” he shared with Bloomberg.
Willow Run in Michigan
With $80 million being put towards the conversion of Willow Run which has a triple lane overpass and, nearby, underused lanes on U.S. Highway 12 where planners say they could test cars from multiple makers with them traveling in squadrons capable of reaching 75 miles per hour and negotiating tight turns, bridges and tunnels.
The idea is to keep various parts of the site rugged as to mimic actual driving conditions which a vehicle would face across all weather climates. They aren’t leaving it all a mess though, with plans to pave new roads, build fake storefronts to create both urban and highway environments. The factory which was rusting away was torn down just one year ago.
The History of Willow Run in World War II
The state of Michigan has put forth $20 million to develop the site and buy the porperty from Racer Trust, which is an entity created after GM’s 2009 bankruptcy to dispose of it’s former factories. The Willow Run facotry became a GM transmission plant after serving as part of Detroit’s WWII “Arsenal of Diplomacy”, where shiny B-24 Liberator bomber planes were finished every hour. There were 42,000 employees working there during the war.