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 significantly
  • Increase vehicle energy efficiency
  • Decrease carbon emissions considerably
  • 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, LTE, and 5G (including cellular-V2X) 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.

The Mcity Test Facility features a 5G Ultra Wideband network provided by Leadership Circle partner Verizon.

4. What are the levels of automation?

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

LEVEL 0:  No Automation

All aspects of driving are fully human and manually controlled, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems such as automatic emergency breaking or blind spot warning.

LEVEL 1:  Driver Assistance

At this level the vehicle can assist with one vital function: steering or speed control. But, the human driver is responsible for safety and operation at all times. Adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning are examples of existing technology at this level.

LEVEL 2:  Partial Automation

With partial automation, the vehicle is able to detect the environment, control acceleration, breaking and steering, and navigate complex traffic situations without any driver intervention. However, the human driver must still pay attention and take over, instantly, at any time. Lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control operating at the same time is an example of Level 2 technology.

LEVEL 3:  Conditional Automation

At this level, vehicles control all features of driving and can make informed decisions such as overtaking slower moving vehicles. The expectation is that the human driver will be ready to respond to a request to intervene when issued by the automated driving system. Traffic jam chauffeur is an example of a Level 3 feature.

LEVEL 4: High Automation

A Level 4 vehicle is capable of full automation in limited conditions, meaning the self-driving mode has a bounded scope of where and when it will drive formally referred to as an operation design domain (ODD.) The design limited conditions can include environmental, geographical and time-of-day restrictions and/or the requisite presence or absence of certain traffic or roadway characteristics. Because this level is fully autonomous, a human driver is not required. A driverless taxi or shuttle, like the Mcity Driverless Shuttle, is an example of this level of automation.

LEVEL 5:  Full Automation

Like Level 4, Level 5 is fully autonomous when the specified automated driving features are engaged and a human driver is not necessary. However, at Level 5 the automated driving features can be used in all conditions everywhere.  There is no need for pedals, brakes, or a steering wheel as the Level 5 vehicle system controls all critical tasks.

Source: https://www.sae.org/news/2019/01/sae-updates-j3016-automated-driving-graphic


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?

Generally speaking, we expect to see fully automated vehicles deployed gradually, beginning with commercial fleets, such as freight trucks, shuttle services on defined routes, such as at amusement parks, airports, and on university campuses. It will likely be some time before fully automated, driverless 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, 29 states have passed laws.  Additionally, 11 states have executive orders made by their governors related to autonomous vehicles.

In Michigan, former 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.