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.

Want to keep up with what's happening at the proving grounds? Sign up for updates.
Sign Up
In Person

Got it!

We have received your RSVP. We look forward to seeing you at the forum.

Sign Up for Updates

Your request to be added to our mailing list has been delivered. We will add you to our mailing list shortly.

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

Overcoming The High Carbon Debt of Electric Vehicle Production

Editor’s Note: While the WI AVPG is focused on advancing the safe deployment of AV tech, occasionally we cover other emerging technologies, like the electric, shared, and connected aspects of the future of transportation.  


WASHINGTON, DC – While it’s nice to have a new year for a fresh start, resolutions can be tricky, especially if you are considering buying an electric vehicle to reduce your annual carbon footprint.

Though studies show that over their lifetime EVs produce fewer emissions than gas guzzlers, EVs generate considerably more CO2 than their gas counterparts on the assembly line. Without reforms to EV manufacturing, or access to green energy to fuel the vehicle once it hits the road, studies suggest it could take years – well beyond the scope of your 2020 resolution – for an EV to be greener than a gas car.

Today, transportation accounts for almost 30% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States, more than any other sector, including agriculture, industry, and yes, even electricity generation.

The good news is that the smooth, emissions-free ride of an electric vehicle shows a lot of promise in the fight to decarbonize transportation.

Recent years have seen a flurry of studies, like this 2018 International Council on Clean Transportation report, affirming that over their lifetime EVs produce fewer emissions than gas-powered cars.

But the same report notes that Chinese EV battery manufacturers, who currently produce over 60 percent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries, also generate 60% more CO2 during fabrication than an internal combustion engine vehicle.

That’s right, when an EV roles off the assembly line, relative to the manufacture of a gas car, an EV has added to greenhouse gas emissions, not reduced them.

How long does it take for an EV to break even with its gas-powered counterpart, you ask?

The short answer: anywhere from 6 months, if you believe the 2015 Union of Concerned Scientist report, to 9 years or more if you go with World Economic Forum numbers. That’s quite a spread, admittedly, but depending on the underlying assumptions in the study, like the size of the battery and the range of the vehicle model, the results can be dramatically different.

But the more nuanced answer to the question is that the time it takes for an EV to break even with a gas car depends on two key variables: how the vehicle is manufactured, and how you fuel it once the vehicle hits the road.

When it comes to manufacturing, the ICCT report notes that Chinese EV manufacturers could cut their emissions by 66% if they adopt American and European manufacturing techniques. It’s not clear if that leads to a 66% reduction in the time it would take for an EV to break even with a gas car – a 1:1 ratio – but a CO2 reduction of that size in the assembly phase would undoubtedly help.

Once the EV hits the road, a car battery is only as green as the fuel that feeds it – a coal fed battery is dirtier than a solar powered battery – so access to renewably sourced energy becomes a key factor for an EV to catch up to a petrol car.

To cite one of the more ominous studies, in Germany, according to the WEF, where about 40% of the energy mix is produced by coal and 30% by renewables, a mid-sized electric car must be driven around 78,000 miles, on average, to break even with a diesel car, and 37,000 miles to match a petrol car. That would take about 9 years for an electric car to be greener than a diesel car, based on annual German driving behavior.

For some added perspective, if you were to apply the same logic to the state of Wisconsin, for example, where only 9% of energy is renewably sourced, and folks drive on average 15,000 miles per year, it would take 375,000 miles, or 15 years, to break even with a diesel car, and 180,000 miles, or 7.5 years to match a petrol car.

That’s a long time, especially when you consider motorists who buy a brand-new car typically keep it for about six years. At these rates, a first time EV buyer may never have the opportunity to be more green than a gas car.

There is reason for optimism, notes Lori Bird, the Director of the US Energy Program at the World Resource Institute. Not only is renewable energy the fastest-growing energy source in the U.S, increasing 100 percent from 2000 to 2018, but we are seeing some positive trends when it comes to pairing EVs with green energy.

Austin Energy has developed a network charging program, called the Plug-in Everywhere Network, that allows customers to access a network of charging stations that source 100% of their charging electricity from wind. Approximately 35% of EV owners within Austin Energy’s service area participate in this program.

There are also managed charging programs, like a recent pilot called Charge Forward, run by Pacific Gas and Electric and BMW in April 2018, where customers agreed to delay charging for up to an hour each day to better align with available renewable energy, in exchange for lower charging rates.

The City of San Diego, for their part, kicked off a partnership with Sand Diego Gas & Electric and others in 2012 to implement a pilot project at the San Diego Zoo, where 10 photovoltaic canopies were installed, giving customers access to five charging stations. When not in use, the solar energy is stored in a battery system.

Meanwhile, other utilities offer discounts to customers willing to charge when renewable energy is being generated – also known as time-based rates. Southern California Edison, for example, introduced in January 2019 competitive rates that incentivize customers to charge on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., when solar is abundant, and off-peak hours on weekends from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m., when the wind is available.

While these examples may feel small in scale, BNP Paribas, one of the world’s largest banks, sent warnings to the oil industry in a 2019 report, stating that “the oil industry has never in its history faced the kind of threat that renewable electricity in tandem with EVs poses to its business model.”

Solar and wind energy, paired with electric cars, the report concludes, provides up to seven times more useful energy for mobility than gasoline on a dollar-for-dollar basis. And that economic reality could hit oil companies sooner than they think.

Bottom line, the stakes are high when it comes to climate change, so any edge in the fight to decarbonize transportation must be explored. Fortunately, strategies to beef up EV access to renewable energy and reform manufacturing practices seem to show some promise.

It has been said that inflated expectations are the number one reason new year resolutions fail.

If purchasing a shiny new electric vehicle is part of your plan to downsize your carbon in 2020, you may want to temper your ambitions.

While in the long run buying an EV makes perfect sense, you won’t likely hit your target by year-end.



Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.  Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.


Read More…

How Cities Can Digitize Their 21st Century Mobility Policies

For the better part of the last century, cities used analog systems like lane markings and curbs …

Read More…

Digital Transportation: The Future of Urban Mobility

The physical scale and unprecedented population growth in some cities have officials grappling wi…

Read More…

U.S. Falling Behind in Smart City Deployments and Key 21st Century Infrastructure

Smart cities are either going to be the pinnacle of modern living or an Orwellian nightmare, but …

Read More…
View All

Contact the Proving Grounds

College of Engineering

1415 Engineering Drive

Madison WI 53706

United States



Washington, D.C.


One for more of the form fields is incomplete or invalid. Please correct the errors before submitting the form.

Your message has been sent. We will get back to you shortly.

Recent AV Forums

Aug 15 2018


5100 W Brown Deer Road

Brown Deer WI 53223

Brian Scharles Jr

Steve Cyra

Rob Fischer

Art Harrington

Ray Mandli

Mar 20 2018

American Family Insurance

6000 American Parkway

Madison WI 53783

Lingqiao Qin

Todd Smith

Sean Kelly

Feb 23 2018


8401 Excelsior Drive

Madison WI 53717

Ray Mandli

Jamie Retterath

Nicholas Jarmusz

Dec 11 2017

Godfrey & Kahn

833 E. Michigan Street, Suite 1800

Milwaukee WI 53202

Peter Rafferty

Asher Elmquist

Joe Vruwink

Ray Mandli

Nov 7 2017

Fitchburg Public Library

5530 Lacy Road

Fitchburg WI 53711

Art Harrington

Ted Nickel

Steve Cyra

Adam Neylon

Oct 5 2017

Fitchburg Public Library

5530 Lacy Road

Fitchburg WI 53711

Peter Rafferty

Ray Mandli

J.P. Wieske

Back to top of page