Automated Vehicles

The applications surrounding successfully developing self-driving cars and other vehicles are reshaping not only the auto industry, but mobility worldwide. As a U.S. Department of Transportation designated AV Proving Grounds, Wisconsin intends to remain at the forefront of these transformative technologies, and the R&D we do contributes to revolutionizing how the world uses transportation.

The Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds partners are a natural choice for the research of automated vehicles because of the infrastructure already present in nearby locations to accommodate the testing of a vast variety of different types of technologies. There are several areas within and near Madison which provide various testing environments, such as the grounds at the MGA Research facility in Burlington, the Road America track in Elkhart Lake, corporate campuses, and of course the UW-Madison campus.

Automated Vehicle Technology

Avid attention on automated or autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is widespread and burgeoning, and the collaborative groundwork being laid in Wisconsin is a prime example. Wisconsin seeks to lead the nation in developing an understanding of this transformative technology and how it can be harnessed for the greater good of society. Researchers with the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) have been contributing to the literature on the benefits and technical aspects of AV, as well as working on policy issues with government entities. AVs are rapidly pushing technical, safety, acceptability, legal, regulatory, and liability boundaries.

AVs have significant potential to improve safety and quality of life. More specifically, AV transit can provide ladders of opportunity to all, including previously underserved communities. Furthermore, AVs can bring significant new research and development opportunities to UW-Madison and new businesses to the state of Wisconsin, including startups and tech companies.

Navya Arma

How Automated Vehicles Work

AV Technology - Top View
AV Technology - Cameras


Cameras gather visual information from the road and traffic control and send them to the controller for processing.

AV Technology - LiDAR


LiDAR sensors bounce lasers off of detected objects. LiDAR can detect road lines and assets and differentiate objects.

AV Technology - Radar


Radar sensors bounce radio waves off detected objects. Radar cannot differentiate objects.

GPS Unit

GPS Unit

The GPS unit identifies the precise position of the vehicle and aids in navigation.

Proving Grounds Objectives

The mission of the Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds is to safely and rapidly advance AV development and deployment by providing a full suite of test environments coupled with research and open data. Our team’s philosophy holds paramount safety, followed by best practice tenants of security and open data. Without these fundamental elements, we recognize it makes little difference what our readiness is or what research and development objectives may be.

Objective - Data and Sensing

Data and sensing including LIDAR, GPS, cameras, communications, and other sensors. This parallels the Safety Assessment point on Object and Event Detection and Response.

Objective - Testing and Validation

Testing and validation methods for AV systems.

Objective - Standards

Advancing standards, safety protocols, and security.

Objective - Vehicle Operations

Vehicle operations including speed, acceleration and deceleration, performance on grades and curves, and in the case of electric vehicles, range and charging time.

Objective - Interfaces

Human-machine interfaces such as sensors, communications, and responses. For this item, our team has the opportunity to leverage the full-scale driving simulator at UW-Madison’s College of Engineering.

Objective - Interaction

Interaction with pedestrians, bicycles, mopeds, cars, and traffic control devices.

Objective - Weather

Inclement weather operations including snow, ice, fog, and high winds. One of the larger unknowns for AVs is winter operation.

Objective - Passenger

Passenger comfort, public perception, and safety improvement.

Objective - Microtransit

AV microtransit developments, enhancements, and testing.

Testing Timeline

Mandli Communications

Fitchburg, WI

MGA Research

Burlington, WI

Road America

Elkhart Lake, WI

UW – Madison

Madison, WI


Verona, WI

City of Madison

Madison, WI



Track Type

Web Link

Testing Types

Proving Grounds Facilities

The team includes the second largest city in Wisconsin, the region’s largest private employer, a premier private proving grounds in operation for decades, one of the nation’s most reputable race tracks, public agencies, and Wisconsin’s flagship research university. Researchers with the UW-Madison College of Engineering will manage and oversee all aspects of the AV proving grounds work, as well as provide research, development, and data stewardship. A key partner on this team is the automotive proving grounds facility owned and operated by MGA Research Corporation near Burlington, WI. The City of Madison and other agencies are partners for AV policy development, regulation, and operations on their roads.

Automated Vehicle


    Our Partners

    News from the Proving Grounds

    Bills, Bills, Bills: A Look at the AV Bills Currently Moving Through Congress

    There’s been a lot of commentary in the media lately about the fix this Congress is in: they haven’t managed to pass any bills of substance, and time is running out before they take a long recess.

    Well, there’s good news, and it’s gone relatively unreported. There are over a dozen bills moving through the House and Senate, winning bipartisan support and looking like shoo-ins for passage into law.

    What do these bills all have in common? They all have to do with autonomous vehicles.

    Maybe part of the reason they’re not getting much coverage is the sheer number of them. What reasonable person has time to sit down and read 13 bills?

    So let’s make it easier on everyone and review exactly what each of these bills is meant to do.

    -The Partial Autonomous Vehicle Exemptions (PAVE) Act will increase the number of FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) exemptions the Secretary of Transportation is allowed to grant to a company — going from 2,500 to 100,000. These exemptions only are available to companies undergoing field evaluation or development “of a new motor vehicle safety feature providing a safety level at least equal to the safety level of the standard.” This means manufacturers and other companies will be able to test 100,000 vehicles per year that, for example, don’t have a steering wheel or pedals — because the safety promised by AVs is above and beyond current motor vehicles.

    -The Renewing Opportunities for Autonomous Vehicle Development (ROAD) Act will expand renewals for the aforementioned exemptions to last five years and authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to extend exemption renewals upon request.

    -The Disability Mobility Advisory Council Act directs the DOT Secretary to create a Disability Mobility Advisory Council, which will submit recommendations to Congress and the DOT Secretary about ways in which the federal government can advance mobility access to disabled communities. The council will be composed of representatives from the disability community as well as academics and members of the private sector.

    -The Improving Mobility Access for Underserved Populations and Senior Citizens Advisory Council Act is similar to the above bill, with a council that will provide recommendations on how AVs can enhance mobility for seniors and populations underserved by traditional public transportation.

    -The Highly Autonomous Vehicle Cybersecurity Advisory Council Act directs the DOT secretary to — you guessed it — create a third council, this one to advise Congress and Transportation on cybersecurity performance metrics for AV deployment, testing, and software updates. One of the areas in which the council will issue recommendations is “supply chain risk management”, so expect some prominent private-sector heavyweights on this council.

    -The MORE (Maximizing Opportunities for Research and Enhancement of) AVs Act will allow manufacturers to introduce non-FMVSS compliant vehicles into interstate commerce, provided they agree not to sell the vehicle when testing is complete. It would additionally expand the law to allow equipment manufacturers and distributors to do the same. What does this translate to? It means that AV testing won’t be limited to the state where the test vehicles are made. In other words, we hope to see Tesla, GM, and whoever else is interested in a good test track here at the Wisconsin Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds.

    -The INFORM (Increasing Information and Notification to Foster Openness Regarding Autonomous Vehicles to States) Act directs NHTSA to have procedures in place for ensuring that states are informed when NHTSA or DOT issue exemptions for highly autonomous vehicles that will be deployed or tested in their state. In other words, no surprises. It also formally defines AVs to allow for smoother rulemaking going forward.

    -The DECAL (Designating Each Car’s Automation Level) Act requires manufacturers to place “highly visible” stickers on vehicles for sale that indicate the vehicle’s level of automation. (Only levels 3, 4 and 5 are required to bear these stickers).

    -The EXEMPT (Expanding Exemptions to Enable More Public Trust) Act expands the DOT Secretary’s authority to issue FMVSS exemptions for AVs that would either A) promote public adoption and acceptance, or B) increase mobility for people with disabilities. However, manufacturers must prove to the DOT that the vehicle is as safe or safer than vehicles that comply with existing FMVSS.

    -The MEMO (Managing Government Efforts to Minimize Obstruction) Act sets clear boundaries between NHTSA and the Federal Trade Commission, essentially to keep them out of one another’s lane regarding AV cybersecurity. The bill would direct the heads of NHTSA and the FTC to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would ward off overlap and duplication in their security oversight capacities.

    -The SHARES (Sharing Autonomous Vehicle Records with Everyone for Safety) Act would establish another council — yep, a fourth — that will develop a framework and practices for developers of Ads to share event, incident and crash data without risking that information being disseminated publicly or having to worry about proprietary information being leaked. If enacted, the council would be required to submit recommendations to the DOT Secretary and Congress within two years.

    -The AV PROMPT (Pre-Market Approval Reduces Opportunities for More People to Travel Safely) Act would prohibit the DOT secretary from establishing a pre-market approval or pre-certification process: in other words, USDOT would not have to assess the safety of any given vehicle before it is manufactured and/or sold.

    -The GUARD (Guarding Automakers Against Unfair Advantages) Act is designed to prevent leaks of proprietary information. This bill would require NHTSA, by law, to to keep secret any information about collisions, cybersecurity or vehicle design provided to them by manufacturers. This ensures OEMs and Tier 1s will be able to do all the testing they want without bad press coming (for example) from one failed test out of hundreds.

    One more. Ready? It’s a good one.

    -The LEAD’R (Let NHTSA Enforce Autonomous Vehicle Driving Regulations) Act would “establish NHTSA as the sole regulatory authority” for regulating AVs and expressly prohibits other government entities from prescribing motor vehicle safety standards for AVs. However, it would allow states and their political subdivisions to prescribe safety standards for AVs and AV components that the state purchases for its own use.

    Whew. That’s a lot to chew on, right?

    Clearly, the legal landscape for AVs is on its way out of is coming into view for lawmakers and federal government officials. While we may not necessarily think every one of these bills is essential, we at the WIPG applaud Congress for actually working together toward something constructive. And we’re excited about the prospects for more testing and for allowing vehicles to go interstate for testing.

    Wisconsin features some of the craziest weather swings in the nation, as well as a company that’s been in the LiDAR/geospatial mapping business for quite some time now along with great test tracks for the Proving Ground. We hope faraway manufacturers take note and decide to take their 100,000 prototypes for a spin on our courses. Especially as the winter rolls around, we expect manufacturers will want to take a look at how their prototypes perform in our snowy and icy season.

    So come on down, Tier 1s and OEMs! The federal government wants you to test, and we have just the right lab in which you can carry out your previously-forbidden experiments.

    (For those interested in ensuring elements of these bills are passed, or for people with concerns about one or two of these points, we strongly suggest contacting your Senators and Congressmen to give your take on this legislation.)

    Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

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    Contact the Proving Grounds

    College of Engineering

    1415 Engineering Drive

    Madison WI 53706

    United States



    Washington, D.C.


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