Silicon Valley vs Motor City: regions compete to test self-driving cars

A 2,100-acre former military base near San Francisco or a 32-acre fake town? Both sites have won interest from automakers and technology companies as they seek to develop the future of transportation.

Silicon Valley thinks it has the answer to everything. No wonder, then, that it also has the answer to the future of transportation.

“I don’t think there’s any better place to test self-driving cars than California,” says Randy Iwasaki. “You’ve got a rainforest in the north, the lowest and highest points in the continental US, heavily congested urban roadways and that low, empty highway running through Death Valley.”
But Iwasaki would say that. He’s the executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, owner of GoMentum Station. This 2,100-acre disused military base in Concord, near San Francisco, is already home to a fleet of experimental self-driving Hondas, and it is where Apple may also be considering testing intelligent vehicles.

Two and a half thousand miles away, Jim Sayer of the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) disagrees. He sees his brand new 32-acre fake town, called Mcity, along with regional connected vehicle projects, as the future of self-driving car testing. “A unique combination of a purpose-built test environment and real-world deployments sets the university apart from other organizations … doing similar work,” he says.