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 is 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 is leading the development of deeper 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) assess the benefits, technical aspects, and risks of AV, as well as collaborate on policy issues with government. 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 shared mobility 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.

About The Proving Grounds

The mission of the Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds (AVPG) is to provide a path to public road evaluation by contributing to the safe and rapid advancement of automated vehicle development and deployment, and providing a full suite of test environments, coupled with research, open data, and stakeholder communication. Our team’s philosophy holds paramount safety, followed by best practice tenets 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.

The key areas of AV development and deployments are reflected in three interconnected AVPG programs:

Proving Grounds Programs

Program on AV Technology

Concentrates on the development of full suite of test environments for the safe evaluation and deployment of vehicles, sensors, hardware, software, and other technologies.

Program on AV Infrastructure

Takes an integrated approach towards understanding the interaction between AVs and smart infrastructure, including connected data, basemapping, and exchange protocols.

Program on AV Governance

Focuses on policy, standards, public acceptance, certification, and developing a regulatory framework for AV technology, AV infrastructure, and the interaction between the two.

AV Working Group

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 Events

Wisconsin AV Stakeholder Summit

Madison, Wisconsin

May 05, 2017

Learn More

ITE Midwestern District Conference

Madison, Wisconsin

June 18 – 20, 2017

Learn More

AV Symposium 2017

San Francisco, California

July 11 – 13, 2017

Learn More

Our Partners

News from the Proving Grounds

Looking Ahead: How AVs Will Impact Truck Drivers

When Americans talk about robots taking their jobs, they’re often thinking of factory work. Lately, however, the conversation has a new spin. “Autonomous trucks are taking drivers’ jobs,” so the claim goes.  

It’s important to note that while this concern is being presented as a problem that’s already rearing its head, autonomous trucks aren’t taking drivers’ jobs — yet. That said, there is some truth to it: if we’re looking several years down the line, the concern is real, and we need to develop a plan.

1.7 million Americans are employed as truck drivers — making it one of the most common professions in the nation. But lately, truck driving jobs aren’t easy to fill. The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates a shortage of about 40,000 drivers that could grow to about 240,000 by 2022.

The reason for the shortage is not entirely clear — trucking companies say that they’re having trouble replacing older workers entering retirement with young recruits, who seem less interested in the profession than previous generations — but we can all agree that driving a truck for a living is a tough job. The hours are long, and drivers spend the vast majority of their time alone. Not to mention the declining pay: in 1980, the average trucker in America was making an annual salary (adjusted for inflation) of more than $110,000. Today, truckers make an average salary of about $40,000 a year, all while putting in longer hours and sometimes having to overwork themselves as they compete with other drivers for the most profitable routes.

But the driver shortage isn’t expected to last long, and yes, that is the likely result of autonomous truck technology. A report from the International Transport Forum says that 70% of truck driving jobs could be eliminated by 2030 because of self-driving trucks. A White House report, issued on December 16 of last year, estimates job losses between 80% to 100%. As with many issues surrounding AVs, there’s no consensus on issues of timing. For instance, a Goldman Sachs analysis, cited by Business Insider, suggests that AV adoption will be slow for several decades and significant driver losses due to technology are perhaps 25 years off, which is clearly at odds with the ITF report.

How, you ask, is this shift going to change the industry and the truck driving profession?

In the future, truckers could work more like airline pilots, maneuvering big rigs onto the highway and then flipping on the autopilot for most of the trip, taking over again only when they have to get off the main route. But that doesn’t exactly explain the job loss. After all, there is still be a driver in the cab.

The explanation has to do, in large part, with the birth of a new technique — truck platooning —- which has already been proven to reduce fuel consumption dramatically in many studies. In fact, it’s expected to be the first “market-ready” connected-vehicle technique. The reason for its efficiency: aerodynamics. Following one another more closely than can be done safely by human drivers, wind resistance is reduced, making trucks more efficient.

A common scenario — involving trucking fleets and independent truckers alike — is that trucks would merge onto the highway and meet up at a station (think of the weighing stations that already exist). At this point, a lead truck is selected — note that this truck is expected to have a driver in it for the foreseeable future — and is “wirelessly connected” to a platoon of several other trucks, which are all automated and set up to receive precise instructions from their connected leader. Now, the platoon is ready to barrel down the highway – spaced by mere feet – to the next station, where trucks can be removed and added from the chain based on delivery points.

All of a sudden, what used to be a truck caravan starts to look more like a digital train, requiring only one driver, maneuvering in a reserved lane, which could be thought of as a railroad track. Point is, autonomous trucks will not be operating on the roads of today; they will be operating on the roads of tomorrow and, indeed, those roads look very different.

The workforce will look different too: there will be fewer drivers, but they will need to be technically savvy, able to troubleshoot the connected system that will make the platoons possible. And remember, the trucks that are following the leader are expected to be driverless before long. If all goes to plan, even the lead truck may be driverless after several decades of perfecting the process.

For technology enthusiasts, that all sounds exciting. But we must remember, when talking about job loss, we are ultimately talking about human beings, people whose dignity and well-being are at stake. So we need to be thinking ahead. 

It’s easy to point out problems we may face in the future. What’s not as easy —- but incredibly important —- is beginning a dialogue about what can actually be done to offset the issues we can foresee. 

There was an interesting op-ed in the LA Times recently that took this problem head-on. In it, several solutions were offered. For instance, we could already be thinking about adopting retraining programs for affected drivers. These programs have worked with some success when dealing with offshoring in other industries. We could also reconsider unemployment insurance. Laid-off drivers could receive adjustment assistance just like factory workers who lost jobs because of imports. And hey, we could get creative with how we fund these programs. As autonomous vehicle companies press Congress to enact laws that create a nationwide green light and a favorable regulatory framework for these vehicles, in exchange Congress could levy a tax on each driverless mile to finance the retraining, adjustment assistance, and/or unemployment insurance.

My point is not to advocate for or against these solutions, but simply to say that we could — and we should — be thinking ahead. While autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to do great things — increase safety, help the environment, and even mitigate driver shortages — it’s like any other major technological advancement, it comes with changes built-in, and not all change is easy. 

The good news is that we can see what’s coming, and we have plenty of time to properly prepare for the future. It’s clear that autonomous vehicles will be a boon to industry across the world, but we can also take steps to make sure it’s not a body blow to the American workforce at the same time.

Rob Fischer, GTiMA President, is the chairman of the governance program at the Wisconsin Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds (WI AVPG). If you are interested in working with the WI AVPG to explore this and/or other issues arising out of AV tech, please reach out at

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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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