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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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

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 one thing seems for sure: the United States probably isn’t going to be the first to find out.

Recent reporting underscores that the United States has fallen behind its neighbors in both smart city deployments and 5G network rollouts—the latter of which is slated to be the connective tissue of these future cities. The news has some experts on edge.

“China is developing 500 smart cities – almost half of the world’s total and more than 10 times North America’s figure,” according to Graham Allison, the former director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, writing in a recent Axios article. In contrast, Allison continued, “the U.S. is developing 40 smart cities, less than 4% of the globe’s total.”

The IDC tells a similar story in the recently released “Worldwide Semiannual Smart Cities Spending Guide.” In the United States, only four cities (New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Chicago) are forecast to spend more than $300 million on smart city programs this year. Meanwhile, 11 cities in China will exceed the $300 million level in 2019.

What about the race to build 5G networks, which have faster speeds, higher throughput, and are considered the backbone of the internet of things, smart cities, and even autonomous vehicles?

The Defense Innovation Board, a who’s-who of tech royalty that advises the Defense Department, met in April and published a critical report on the country’s 5G effort, effectively confirming that Beijing has taken the lead.

“The country that owns 5G will own many of these innovations and set the standards for the rest of the world… [and] that country is currently not likely to be the United States,” wrote the board, which includes former Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and Walter Isaacson, a former chief executive of the Aspen Institute.

They have a point: according to patent analytics firm IPlytics [pdf], the United States is behind in the 5G patent race. The Chinese 5G market accounts for 34% of all 5G patents and technology; South Korea accounts for 25%.  Trailing behind those two countries are the United States and the European Union–both of which account for 14% of the 5G market.

I.P. ownership aside, the Unite States isn’t faring much better when it comes to building out 5G networks.

“If you count the launch of commercial service in any form, the U.S. is in front of China,” writes Elizabeth Woyke in a December article for the MIT Technology Review. Both countries have carriers that claim to have introduced early 5G services to a limited number of mobile customers.

On the other hand, Woyke continued, “if you think a country needs to roll out 5G to all its major cities in order to claim leadership, China looks likely to come out ahead.”

China Tower, a company that builds infrastructure for the country’s mobile operators, has said it can cover China with 5G within three years of the government’s allocation of spectrum.

“That points to national coverage by 2023,” warns Woyke. Based on the tone of the Defense Innovation Board report, it doesn’t seem likely the United States can compete with that timeline.

AT&T, for example, plans to cover nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population with 5G by 2021; Verizon has similar plans. However, at this point, there is no clear path to full national coverage in the United States.

Complicating the rollout in the United States are the 80 cities and counties suing the FCC over new rules designed to accelerate the buildout of America’s 5G infrastructure. The rules limit municipal authorities to charging $270 per cell site per year and also impose a “shot clock” limiting how long authorities can take to review installation requests.

The FCC argues that the new rules will free up $2 billion in capital for wireless providers to use in underserved areas like rural communities; cities are claiming the federal government has overstepped its bounds, undercutting local control of infrastructure.

Further slowing the 5G rollout in U.S. communities are health concerns. The service will require thousands of small cell antennas placed throughout cities, and critics have said that the radiation could increase the risk of cancer, fatigue, headaches and other effects—claims that lack scientific support.

The National Cancer Institute recently weighed in, summing up the field of concern by saying a “limited number of studies” showed evidence of a”“statistical association of cell phone use and brain tumor risks,” but added that “most studies have found no association.”

Long story short, it’s not looking so good for the United States right now. Underinvestment in smart city deployments—relative to other countries—coupled with a forecast of a long 5G rollout and low patent ownership is unnerving some experts.

Then again, there may be a silver lining to this tale. After all, in the event these cities do turn into Orwellian nightmares, who would want to be the first to find out anyway?


Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA and a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications. Both GTiMA and Mandli work with national, international and regional authorities to advance smart city standards, policies, and best practices – especially as they relate to the future of mobility. Robert is also an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. 

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

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Madison WI 53706

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