Toyota Research Institute to Open New Driverless Car Test Bed in Michigan

The state of Michigan notched another mobility-industry win today when the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) announced that a 60-acre parcel in Ottawa Lakes, MI, will be the home of a new autonomous vehicle development and testing facility, the first dedicated exclusively to TRI’s use.

TRI is Toyota’s research arm, which aims to enhance the safety of automobiles, increase access to vehicles for those who otherwise cannot drive, and accelerate scientific discovery by applying techniques from artificial intelligence and machine learning to other areas in order to lower costs and improve performance.

TRI opened a $1 billion research operation in Ann Arbor in 2016, and has additional U.S. locations in Cambridge, MA, and Palo Alto, CA. The organization employs a total of nearly 300 people between all three locations, while Toyota has more than 2,600 employees across Michigan. TRI did not say whether it would need to hire additional staff at the new testing facility.

The research organization plans to open the new testing facility, located at the Michigan Technical Resource Park (MITRP), in October. The 336-acre MITRP was opened in 1968 as a test bed for a Tier 1 auto supplier, and was sold to private developers in 2010. TRI will lease the site from MITRP, but will be solely responsible for its operation and maintenance.

Toyota says it plans to use the site to safely replicate driving scenarios that are too dangerous for public roadways, and will include elements like urban congestion, slick surfaces, and a four-lane divided highway with high-speed on and off ramps. TRI will construct its facility inside of MITRP’s existing 1.75-mile oval test track (pictured). This new site expands TRI’s closed-course testing capabilities and enhances partnerships with GoMentum Station in California, and Mcity and the American Center for Mobility in Michigan, the company says.

“By constructing a course for ourselves, we can design it around our unique testing needs and rapidly advance capabilities, especially with Toyota Guardian automated vehicle mode,” said Ryan Eustice, TRI’s senior vice president of automated driving, in a prepared statement. “This new site will give us the flexibility to customize driving scenarios that will push the limits of our technology and move us closer to conceiving a human-driven vehicle that is incapable of causing a crash.”

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