Near the southern edge of Michigan, less than one mile from the Ohio state line, nestled among all the farms sits the Michigan Technical Resource Park (MITRP). Such facilities actually aren’t all that uncommon in Michigan. In a region where the auto industry has long been a major part of the economy, carmakers and suppliers have long dotted the landscape with private test tracks to evaluate new products. However, this little known 50-year-old facility will soon get a major upgrade to test the latest technologies with help from Toyota.
The emergence of automated driving as a technology that is widely seen as a panacea to all of the ills caused by the use of motor vehicles over the past century is somewhat unique in the history of this industry since its earliest days. Automation has the potential to impact everything from safety to emissions to congestion to the entire retail and service side of the business. If deployed with care, it can have huge positive impacts on society. If done recklessly, it could make things far worse. That’s why companies like Toyota are still doing extensive testing on private proving grounds in addition to public road evaluations.
The 332-acre MITRP currently offers a variety of on and off-road test surfaces including a 1.75-mile concrete oval plus offices, labs and garages. Track time is rented out a variety of clients. The Toyota Research Institute (TRI), the group within Toyota responsible for among other things, developing automated driving systems has signed a deal with MITRP to lease about 60-acres inside the oval. TRI will set up a dedicated facility there for testing automated driving that replicates dense urban environments, highway interchanges and different kinds of surfaces.
Interestingly, MITRP is only about 45 minutes south of TRI’s Ann Arbor offices as well as Toyota’s two local technical centers. The TRI office is barely more than stone’s throw from MCity and about 10 minutes from the American Center for Mobility (ACM) two other test facilities for evaluating automated and connected vehicles.
TRI spokesman Rick Bourgoise explained that while those facilities are useful and will continue to utilized by Toyota, because they are shared with other companies, time must be booked well in advance and is limited. TRI engineers and researchers will have exclusive use of the MITRP facilities and access whenever they need it. MCity, ACM and the GoMentum Station in California will continue to be used along with other Toyota facilities globally.