Looking for fact-based, objective insights about autonomous vehicles and the future of mobility? Consider Mcity your source. Based on our work and areas of expertise, here are answers to some frequently asked questions.

1. What are connected, automated, and autonomous vehicles?

connected vehicle graphic



  • Allows drivers to be warned of emerging dangerous situations
  • Vehicles can anonymously and securely exchange data with other vehicles
  • Vehicles can communicate wirelessly via vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), including location, speed, and direction
  • Connectivity enables automation by serving as an additional sensor

automated vehicle graphic



  • Augments certain driving functions (acceleration, braking, steering) with technology-activated response built into the vehicle
  • Levels of automation are defined by the number of automated functions and the range of driving environments where automation will apply

driverless vehicle graphic



  • Vehicle without a driver that carries all of the necessary sensors, decision-making software, and control features to “see” the environment, and responds to what it “senses” around it, just as human drivers do
  • A fully-automated vehicle is sometimes referred to as “autonomous,” but a more accurate term is “driverless”

2. What are the potential benefits of connected and automated vehicles?

Connected and automated vehicles have the potential to:

  • Reduce vehicle fatalities and injuries by as much as 90 percent
  • Increase vehicle energy efficiency
  • Significantly reduce carbon emissions
  • Lower freight transportation costs
  • Reduce land use for mobility, including parking
  • Improve accessibility to transportation

3. How do connected vehicles “talk” to each other and to the infrastructure?

Connected vehicles exchange data via wireless communication. Today, Dedicated Short Range Communication, or DSRC, offers the most reliable technology for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication for safety.

DSRC transmits messages via a special kind of Wi-Fi that is similar to Wi-Fi technologies used at home. The messages can be transmitted over a longer range than onboard sensors, and through barriers such as heavy snow or fog, providing more accurate information at a lower cost than more expensive sensors.

DSRC, as well as other forms of connected vehicle communications through technologies such as Bluetooth and LTE, also make it possible to link vehicles with infrastructure, enabling coordination and cooperation that can reduce congestion and improve traffic flow. Pedestrians and bicyclists can be linked in through portable devices.

4. What are the levels of automation (standardization)?

The auto industry has agreed on the following definitions for levels of automation:

Level 0

No Automation

The full-time performance by the human driver of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems

Level 1

Driver Assistance

The driving mode-specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver performs all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task

Level 2

Partial Automation

The driving mode-specific execution by one or more driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver performs all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task

Level 3

Conditional Automation

The driving mode-specific performance by an Automated Driving System of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene

Level 4

High Automation

The driving mode-specific performance by an Automated Driving System of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene

Level 5

Full Automation

The full-time performance by an Automated Driving System of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver

Reference: https://www.sae.org/news/3544/

5. How do automated vehicles work?

An automated vehicle uses a variety of sensors to collect data about the surrounding environment. Maps and GPS help to localize the vehicle. Onboard computers analyze the data collected by the sensors, as well as the mapping data, to determine the best course and drive the vehicle.

Automated vehicle sensors include:

  • Radar: Detects objects by using radio waves to measure the distance between the host vehicle and nearby obstacles
  • Lidar (Light Detection and Radar): Creates a 360-degree image of the surrounding environment using laser beams. (Some lidars are not 360-degrees. Solid state lidars, for example, can have a limited field of view.)
  • Cameras: Help determine the distance between a vehicle and other objects. They also “see” traffic signals, pedestrians, bicycles and other obstacles.

6. Why is it important that driverless vehicles also communicate with each other?

Onboard vehicle sensors in automated and driverless vehicles, while sophisticated, have limitations. Much like humans, cameras, radar and LIDAR only see what is in their line of sight. Poor lighting or bad weather conditions can hinder their performance. They also have a short range of operation, limited accuracy in sensing the position and speed of other vehicles, and the images they capture are relatively low resolution. These shortcomings make it difficult to ensure the safety and reliability of automated vehicles that do not also communicate with each other, or with the infrastructure.


7. When will we see driverless vehicles on the road?

Driverless vehicles are already on the road in limited numbers through initiatives such as Uber’s fleet of driverless taxis. And several automakers have announced plans to have driverless cars on the road in some way by 2021. Generally speaking, though, we expect to see fully automated vehicles deployed gradually, perhaps beginning with commercial fleets, such as freight trucks, shuttle services at amusement parks, airports, and on university campuses. It will likely be some time before fully automated vehicles are sold on the mass market to the average consumer.

In the meantime, driver-assist technologies are already available to help drivers parallel park, stay in the correct lane, keep a safe distance from the lead vehicle,  and see what’s in their blind spot, among other things. More and more automated features are being tested and made available in new vehicles.

8. Can driverless cars be driven on public roads?

According to this web site, 11 states have passed laws.

Eleven states – Alabama, California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia – along with the District of Columbia, have enacted laws for autonomous vehicles. In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder in December 2016 signed a package of bills that are considered among the most permissive in the country. The state now allows, among other things, the operation of fully-automated, or autonomous, vehicles on public roads where previously only testing was permitted.

9. How many companies have used the Mcity Test Facility?

We don’t disclose specific information about who is using Mcity because, like most automotive proving grounds, it is a closed facility and any work done there is confidential. But since its opening in 2015, Mcity has been in demand for testing and research as well as for informational visits by government officials and media. At least 15 of Mcity’s industry partners have conducted testing at the facility.

10. What are the barriers to progress?

A host of advances in such areas as connected and automated vehicle systems, multi-modal transportation, traffic performance management, shared vehicle use, as well as in new fuels, novel engine design, alternative energy sources, and advanced materials, offer great promise to address the challenges and, in the process, to truly revolutionize mobility in societies worldwide. Individually, none of these advances will have the impact needed; we must look at our mobility system as a whole.

To date, there has been little work on how to integrate the technical, economic, social, and policy considerations to create a viable mobility “system” that meets the dynamic needs of a changing society. While the technology is compelling, this new “mobility package” needs to be highly attractive to users throughout society and needs to be commercially successful, creating many new business partnerships and opportunities. We’ll also need to consider robust cybersecurity models and possibly a new legal, liability and insurance framework.