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. Scroll down or explore additional resources to learn more.

The Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds partners are a natural choice for the AV R&D because of the range of environments and facilities available to accommodate the testing of a wide variety of different technologies and applications. These range from lab-based and simulated environments, the closed track at MGA Research in Burlington, Road America in Elkhart Lake, corporate campuses, the UW-Madison campus, and public roads.

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February 23 2018 • 9:00 AM

AAA • Madison

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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.

AV Working Group

Proving Grounds Objectives

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.

AV microtransit developments, enhancements, and testing.

Testing Timeline

Testing timeline

Mandli Communications

MGA Research

Road America

UW – Madison

Corporate Campuses

City of Madison

Testing Facility

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.


Mandli Communications

Fitchburg, WI


MGA Research

Burlington, WI


Road America

Elkhart Lake, WI


UW – Madison

Madison, WI


City of Madison

Madison, WI


Chippewa Valley Regional Airport

Eau Claire, WI

Additionally, we work with corporate campuses to test automated vehicles in workplace environments, accounting for such factors as safety, usability, and acceptance.

Automated Vehicle Events

IEEE Madison AVs

Madison, Wisconsin

October 19, 2017

ITS World Congress

Montreal, Quebec

October 29 – November 02, 2017

Our Partners

News from the Proving Grounds

AV Benefits to Cities: More Than Just Safety

Let’s not devalue the potential benefits to safety offered by autonomous vehicles. In an era where distracted driving is on the rise, so too are crash fatalities, which have spiked over the past two years after a decade or more of steadily declining. AVs have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives per year. That’s extremely important, but it also tends to be the main positive thing we hear about AVs.

We know that urban centers will be the first hosts to autonomous vehicles, and we’ve written a bit about the hurdles planners face in preparing their cities for the technology — and a bit about the improved land use that could result from careful preparation.

But what are some of the other benefits to cities that are less-reported? For answers to that, we turn to a recent Bloomberg Insights report, “Taming The Autonomous Vehicle: A Primer for Cities”, which tells us “the low-cost mobility of AVs could be an important tool for reorganizing and reinventing human services in the future.”

And when we look closely at the data, we can see that this is true across a variety of human services that we wouldn’t typically associate with autonomous vehicles.

Take children and schools, for example. There is a recurring theme in cities around budget shortfalls for educational programs, which, it could be argued, are essential for the nation to grow and stay competitive. According to Bloomberg, 25 million students are transported by a school bus twice a day. It seems like a lot, and it is — and it comes at a cost. In fact, the annual cost for bus transportation per student is close to $1,000 a year! While Bloomberg acknowledges that parental acceptance of automated buses taking their kids to school is an open question, it does underscore the fact that education dollars would be freed up in large numbers by such a transition. In most cities, bus service to and from school is provided free of charge. Imagine what an extra $1,000 per student could do to offer competitive teacher salaries and host innovative educational programs.

There’s more than just the cost-saving element here. As Bloomberg puts it, “AVs could support the restructuring of how education is delivered. Policy reforms that seek to increase choice and specialization in local school systems will increase school-related travel,” which obviously will be a much easier job to handle with an automated bus system. The study also notes that magnet schools, which draw from a much larger area than neighborhood schools, face issues getting their students to school efficiently, especially since they have “lower rates of walking, bicycling, and commuting by car and higher ra s of busing.” Many students attend magnet schools that would amount to a 30-minute commute by car, or more. Rather than being tethered to the end of a bus line that begins dropping off students near the school and ends up in the suburbs where the last students are dropped off hours later, it would be reasonable to have smaller buses or vans for those students, thus allowing more family and homework time for them.

Then there’s health care. Bloomberg cites a recent report by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), which says “an estimated 11 million medical appointments are missed annually in the United States due to insufficient transportation. If AVs could fill this gap, an estimated $19 billion could be saved annually, mostly from entitlement programs.”

It’s obviously about more than just the money here, too – though saving entitlement dollars from going to waste would be a great thing for any city. Bloomberg lays out a chart of the type of appointments that are missed, and here we see the human element: half a million diabetes-related doctor’s appointments per year. Close to two million end-stage renal cancer appointments per year. One and a half million missed congestive heart failure-related appointments per year. And, stunningly, two and a half million missed mental health-related appointments per year. So the money wasted is really nothing compared to the degree of suffering that is caused to millions of people who lack the ability to secure transportation to these appointments.

Bloomberg suggests some ways that medical services could be restructured in the AV era: “unattended medical shuttles are unlikely, as many passengers will still require assistance boarding and de-boarding the vehicle, but the driver might be replaced by a more skilled medical technician who could perform triage and preventative care. As AI-enabled diagnostics, telemedicine, and other innovations improve, many patients could be treated on-board and discharged back at their home. If significant amounts of care could be decentralized in this way, hospitals could be smaller and/or more specialized.”

Hospitals are clogged in many urban centers, so the possibility that mobile, autonomous medical vehicles could actually be the point of care for non-emergency medical issues would be a total game-changer for public health in cities.

Finally, there’s the part of the day that everyone loves to hate: the commute. People are commuting longer distances than ever to work as urban sprawl increases. But with autonomous vehicles, where a person would be able to do some of their work in their car while getting to work much more quickly than they do today, the commute could actually become part of the workday.

And the radius of what could be considered a reasonable commute would improve, too. It’s estimated that the amount of time someone spends on a 30-mile commute to Chicago today would be equivalent to an 84-mile commute from the state of Wisconsin in an autonomous vehicle. Not only will that make workers more efficient, it will expand the job market for everyone.

These are just a few of the benefits that AVs promise to cities and their residents. For more, we recommend you check out the Bloomberg Insight report. And we hope planners are listening: while, as we’ve reported, the amount of work on the horizon for them is significant, the benefits could be truly transformative for the citizens they serve. And that’s what all the talk about AV benefits should focus on. Not only are they expected to be exponentially safer, they also will touch every aspect of city services, freeing up money in budgets and improving the quality of a city top to bottom.

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Contact the Proving Grounds

College of Engineering

1415 Engineering Drive

Madison WI 53706

United States



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