UW-Madison: Wisconsin proving ground paves way for driverless vehicle research

MADISON – A partnership including University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers has been named one of 10 proving grounds for driverless cars and trucks by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The future of transportation undoubtedly includes vehicles that operate with little or no input from human operators, according to Peter Rafferty, a program manager at UW-Madison’s Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory (TOPS). Outgoing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who announced the proving grounds last week, expects them to serve as a network of pooled expertise to speed the safe deployment of driverless vehicles.

“There are still a lot of questions of safety and human interaction and plenty of technological challenges that need addressing,” says Rafferty. “The Department of Transportation wants to make sure the lessons learned in that work are being shared, and being involved in this network means Wisconsin has access to that knowledge and an opportunity to contribute.”

The TOPS Lab, in the UW-Madison College of Engineering, and Akron, New York-based MGA Research led an effort to gather space and expertise to attract researchers testing autonomous vehicles (AVs) in all sorts of conditions.

“AV technology in development ranges from one- and two-person vehicles and small buses for local trips up to platoons of trucks driving in tandem on the interstate,” Rafferty says. “We have places to test most or all of them.”

The Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds includes MGA’s Burlington site – 400 acres of roadways and crash-testing facilities originally built as a proving ground for American Motors cars – and the 4-mile racing circuit at Road America in Plymouth provide secure environments for AV testing. The sprawling headquarters of Epic Systems in Verona and UW-Madison’s own streets are also included in the proving grounds.

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