Mule, horse, bicycle, scooter, car—and soon, autonomous vehicle. With each mode of transportation has come dramatic changes, and the introduction of self-driving vehicles is no exception. This time, however, it’s not simply a matter of using a different mode of transportation on the same infrastructure. We’re in for big changes to automobile infrastructure and many of those changes are being tested in Michigan.
Hit the road running
The American Center for Mobility (ACM) at Willow Run in Ypsilanti Township, Mich., is one of a few U.S. facilities designed to develop autonomous vehicle technology. ACM is located on a 500-acre site that was once a World War II B-24 Liberator bomber assembly plant site, and more recently a transmission manufacturing facility.
ACM is a one-of-a-kind global Smart Mobility Test Center, providing a platform for the integration of emerging mobility technologies including connected, automated, electric and cybersecurity. The facility is purpose-built, providing a wide variety of variable, real-world road systems and customizable test environments integrated with the technologies meant to support the development of these revolutionary solutions.
The road systems include a 2.5-mile, multiple-lane highway loop with exit and entrance ramps, signalized intersections, trilevel overpasses and open configurable pavement surfaces. The facility was designed with changing elevations and curvatures intended to provide the challenges faced by ordinary drivers on public roadways. ACM has further developed capabilities to simulate various driving conditions including snow, sun, rain and sleet so engineers can test vehicle technologies against real-world elements. Closed to the public, landscaping, fencing and screening has been installed to protect the confidentiality and safety of facility users, which include automobile manufacturers such as Ford, Dearborn, Mich.; Toyota, Plano, Texas; and Hyundai, Fountain Valley, Calif.; as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The contract to build the ACM test track was awarded to Angelo Iafrate Construction Co., Warren, Mich., and a number of different subcontractors, including Rauhorn Electric Inc. of Bruce Township, Mich.
In 1980, Delbert J. Rau Jr. established Rauhorn Electric, which has been family owned and operated since its inception. Rau’s son, Anthony Rau, has taken over the family business and continues to guide Rauhorn Electric while expanding its specialization in transportation-related electrical infrastructure in Michigan. The company provides services such as airport electrical, integration, intelligent transportation systems, overhead distribution and substation work, pump station work, electrical, site lighting, traffic signals and control systems, renewable energy, roadway and freeway lighting and underground construction.
“Rauhorn was founded on strong ethics and a solid safety-first culture,” said Ugo Mancini, director of project management for the company. “Those same principles and values remain today.”
For the ACM project, Rauhorn was tasked with installing all the electrical and communication infrastructure around the facility, which has roadways that simulate city streets. Rauhorn’s crew consisted of 10–15 members during the summer and fewer during the winter.
“ACM, which was years in the making, is unique in that it is a stand-alone site developed for emerging mobility vehicle technology testing,” said Joe Scheuerman, project manager for Rauhorn Electric. “It was very cool to be part of that,” he said.
Rauhorn provided power and communication for all the devices—cameras, roadside units and lights—on the test track. When Rauhorn began the project in 2017, the property, previously the site of an old General Motors manufacturing facility that was demolished years before, consisted of some grassy areas but was mostly a concrete building slab and parking lots. In some places, the test roadway track was built on top of the old slab. Some of the concrete jungle was ripped out to put in “streets.”
To create the site, Angelo Iafrate Construction transported thousands of tons of fill dirt and aggregate base, brought in an asphalt paving contractor to pave the roads, and created elevation changes, ramps and even a tunnel, Scheuerman said.
After working on-site in 2017, 2018 and early 2019, Rauhorn participated in the construction of the fully functional autonomous vehicle test track. Rauhorn equipped the facility with an operations center building, a security booth with gate arms to control customer access and provide confidentiality to the site, vehicle garages and the electrical and communication infrastructure required for the site’s advanced vehicle and technology testing.
“There are plans for future testing that will involve installation of rail tracks so that if people cross the road, vehicles will sense them and stop. Also, designs and plans are in progress to add more components for companies to test their vehicles on site by the hour or by the day,” Scheuerman said.
As part of its contract, Rauhorn brought power from the primary powerhouse and distributed it around the roadway loop to the cameras, intelligent transportation systems (ITS) cabinets and monitoring equipment that interacts with the vehicles. Rauhorn also brought power to freeway lighting and new buildings on-site, and participated in the construction of a command operations center.
While the roads were being built, Rauhorn Electric installed underground conduits off the road shoulder and installed power cables and fiber optic cable within the conduits around the track. The power originated from an on-site electrical substation. Primary power was distributed around the facility through switchgear equipment, transformers and distribution panels. From the distribution panels, power went out to ITS cabinets installed on concrete poles or steel poles, cabinets that house all the electronic equipment that is needed on-site for the vehicle interconnection such as roadside units, surveillance equipment and other communication devices.
Smile, you’re on camera
“We installed a lot of cameras on-site. The 105-foot concrete poles each had four cameras. The feeds from those cameras are transmitted back to the operations center where the ACM representatives can monitor the entire 2.5-mile track on a large video wall,” Scheuerman explained.
In order for the operations building to have communication links to all the ITS cabinets, Rauhorn installed a 96-strand fiber backbone around the entire track that leads back to the operations building. The fiber optic cable allows those at the ACM operations center to connect to every ITS cabinet as well as control the cameras and signals.
“Making sure it was installed properly, that fiber was in the right cabinets in order to send information back to the command center was a challenging job,” Scheuerman said. “One of the hardest parts of the project was integration, bringing everything online, making sure all the components were properly talking back to the command center, all the fiber splicing and testing.
“There’s always a lot of things that come up when you’re dealing with computers and technology, which could be lack of communication with a device or why we couldn’t see the video stream, or if fiber was not spliced properly, or is the camera not outputting to the video stream, or is it one of the components inside the ITS cabinets that’s not allowing it to be sent back. There may be one problem but six or seven things you have to look at, and you have to troubleshoot everything to figure out why you have a lack of performance.”
“The biggest challenge was bringing everything online, making everything link as a whole,” Scheuerman said. “By the time we left, the operation center needed control over every device in the field. We had to run through a tech list. If the command center was not getting the camera feed, we had to troubleshoot to determine the issue, testing voltage and power at every single location. We had to ensure that every device was communicating properly and could be accessed by the operations center,” he said. “We worked alongside our integration subcontractor, Integral Blue [Madison Heights, Mich.], that handled the programming and testing all of the ITS devices and helped bring the system online as a whole.”
Altogether, the project was a success.
“ACM is thankful for the work Rauhorn performed in the implementation and integration of our electrical power and ITS systems at this world-class facility,” said Mark Chaput, chief operating officer at ACM. “Their expertise helped us create this unique facility that will allow companies across the mobility spectrum to advance autonomous vehicle technologies and realize new solutions in vehicle safety and personal mobilization.”