Robot cars will be put through their paces by researchers and federal regulators at 10 test tracks designated by the U.S. as official sites for validating the technology.
In one of its last acts under the Obama administration, the Transportation Department picked two sites in California and one each in Michigan and seven other states as locations for proving self-driving cars before they hit U.S. roadways. The selections follow a nationwide competition among national testing centers that began in November.
Automakers will share the facilities and data to accelerate the arrival of autonomous cars, the regulator said. The race is on to put robot cars on the road, with Tesla Motors Inc., BMW AG, General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Volvo Cars each pledging production of fully autonomous cars within five years. Alphabet Inc. spun off its Google Self-Driving Car Project, renamed it Waymo, and unveiled a driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivan earlier this month.
“The designated proving grounds will collectively form a community of practice around safe testing and deployment,” outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “This group will openly share best practices for the safe conduct of testing."
Detroit and Silicon Valley, vying for supremacy over autonomous autos, each received official test sites in their backyards. GoMentum Station, a decommissioned Naval base in Concord and the San Diego Association of Governments each got the nod in California.
The American Center for Mobility at Willow Run in Michigan, where B-24 bombers were built during World War II, also made the cut.
“Speed is of the essence here,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who pushed for the competition to name official test sites. “We’re in a very important race against Asian and European countries that are moving forward with this technology.”
Michigan's planned $80 million site sits on more than 300 acres.
The winning facilities will need to be open by Jan. 1, 2018. The first phase of the American Center for Mobility's planned highway, urban and rural simulations -- a 2.5-mile highway loop -- is expected to open by December.
A proving ground designation is not expected to come with federal funding, though backers of the Willow Run project hope the label can leverage additional funding.
The Michigan Economic Development Corp., through the Michigan Strategic Fund, committed $20 million for the highway loop segment. The Strategic Fund board also approved a state Renaissance Zone designation that waives property taxes for 15 years, which is worth $1.9 million per year.
Another $60 million in funding will be needed. Proponents are lobbying the federal government and the private sector. AT&T is the mobility center's first corporate partner, which will be the sole provider of cell network service through 2020.
Gov. Rick Snyder and his administration want the state to be a national leader in the emerging mobility sector, as automakers and tech firms work on self-driving technology both in Michigan and in places like Silicon Valley.
Michigan faces stiff competition from other states. The American Center for Mobility, Michigan Department of Transportation, University of Michigan and Michigan State University on Wednesday unveiled a coalition with universities and transportation departments in Ohio and Pennsylvania to collaborate on automated vehicle research.
Bloomberg and Crain's Detroit Business contributed to this report.