The American Center for Mobility, a non-profit product development and testing facility, has broken ground on a new driverless vehicle testing site in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The 335-acre mock town and highway facility is being built at the former World War II Willow Run bomber factory.
The $80-million facility is planned to open in December 2017 and will be made available for private, government, and academic use. The site was picked because it already includes many structures and roadways that will aid in the testing, including wide-lane road and overpasses. When completed, the final campus will include multiple driving situations and settings including areas designated as residential, rural, urban, commercial, off-road, and high speed. The mission of the facility will be to test vehicle safety in a controlled, yet realistic, environment, as well as research mobility technologies.
“This is the start of a new era at a site incredibly rich with history,” said John Maddox, president and CEO of the American Center for Mobility. “While there are many well-known transportation and manufacturing innovations at this site, the first use of this property was as a teaching orchard developed by Henry Ford. We’re planting an apple tree here today to honor the heritage and continue the tradition of innovation, education, and good stewardship.”
Willow Run produced nearly half of the B-24 Bombers for the Allied forces during WWII. (Courtesy U.S. Library of Congress)
The Willow Run complex was originally built in 1941 by the Ford Motor Company to produce components for the Douglas Aircraft B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. In less than a year, the plant began producing and assembling the entire aircraft. By 1945, when production seized, Willow Run had produced nearly half of the Liberators for the war effort. Along with the plant, an airport was built so the planes could take off immediately after production. After the war, the airport was transferred to civilian use and the plant was bought and sold multiple times. The last owner and operator of the plant was Ford’s rival General Motors.
The American Center for Mobility is a joint initiative between the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the University of Michigan, the Business Leaders for Michigan and Ann Arbor SPARK.