A Flint, MI university turned vacant land into autonomous vehicle proving grounds

Kettering University unveiled this week an automotive proving grounds in a bid to lure companies and students to the Flint, MI area. The test track is on the school’s grounds, housed on land that once contained a massive General Motors’ manufacturing facility that was torn down and left abandoned.

The Kettering University GM Mobility Research Center (or MRC) features outdoor lab space and a test track for use in developing and researching autonomous vehicles, safety standards and, soon, performance technologies. The university says the track is unique in that it features Kettering’s own, private 4G LTE wireless network for use in testing vehicle-to-vehicle technologies.

Next spring the university will start construction on additional test tracks and buildings that will include automotive bays, conference rooms and indoor lab spaces.

“The MRC will have a tremendous impact on our ability to continue educating the nation’s best and most innovative scientists and engineers,” Kettering University President Robert K. McMahan said in a released statement. “It will open up many new opportunities for our faculty to engage in applied research at the cutting edge of autonomous vehicle systems design and engineering. It will also provide a state-of-the-art facility for our more than 600 corporate partners to use when researching, developing, and testing new mobility and transportation technologies.”

According to officials, several companies have already signed up to use the facility, including Delphi.

The MRC is part of a plan to revitalize 21 acres that once held the manufacturing center of Chevrolet Motors. Around General Motors’ peak, the company employed 8,000 workers at the facilities on this tract of land called by locals as Chevy in the hole (because the area is literally on a depression around the Flint River). This was the facility that housed the United Auto Workers’ Sit-Down Strike in 1936-1937. The last building in this complex was torn down in 2004 and the area sat unused for several years.

Other parts of the land have been turned into parks and common areas featuring grassland, woodlands and wetlands.

This facility adds to Michigan’s growing options of next-gen vehicle proving grounds, including the University of Michigan’s Mcity Test Facility.