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

Could Greenhouse Gas Emissions Be Added To COVID-19’s Casualty List?

As the world rebounds from the first waves of coronavirus, governments are preparing to spend trillions of dollars in economic stimulus. This raises the question: should the United States earmark stimulus funds to flatten the climate curve? By targeting investments that modernize the automobile, not only could we add greenhouse gas emissions to the long list of coronavirus’s casualties, but we could also create thousands of new jobs. With unemployment slated to reach 15% in 2020, this sounds like a two-for-one deal the American public could get behind.

The world now knows what can be achieved by closing vast swaths of the economy and stopping a great many people from traveling: a record drop in greenhouse gas emissions. In the first week of April, daily emissions worldwide were 17% below what they were last year. The International Energy Agency expects global industrial greenhouse gas emissions to be about 8% lower in 2020 than they were in 2019, the largest drop since the second world war.

But this noteworthy reduction reveals a crucial truth about the climate crisis. It is much too large to be solved by the abandonment of planes, trains, and automobiles. This sad experiment has shown that to get on track with the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious goal—of a climate only 1.5C warmer than it was before the industrial revolution—the world would still have to reduce GHG emissions by 90%.

Some see this moment as an opportunity. According to a recent Economist article, Dr. Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, reminds us that government decisions guide about 70% of the spending on energy. “In a very short period,” Birol says, “governments will make enormously consequential decisions.” Total stimulus spending will be in the trillions. If a decent fraction of that is earmarked for climate action, it could be world-changing.

Pleas to channel stimulus funds toward climate action were also made a decade ago, when policymakers were trying to dig themselves out of the 2007-09 financial crisis, the Economist continued. Roughly an eighth of the stimulus money disbursed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)—some 90 Billion dollars—went into clean-energy loans and investments.

And while critics are quick to point to the infamous $535 million loan to Solyndra, a company devoted to cylindrical solar cells, which went bust soon after, the vast majority of loans were repaid. Of note was the ARRA loan that helped to finance Tesla’s first car factory. Fast forward to 2019, when Tesla released its first-ever environmental impact report, the electric car manufacturer had produced 550,000 zero-emissions vehicles since it started production of its first electric car. And by then, Tesla’s fleet of vehicles had driven over 10 billion miles, helping prevent over 4 million tons of CO2 from polluting the environment.

Investing in transportation to fight climate change makes a lot of sense. Transportation accounts for almost 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, more than any other sector, including agriculture, industry, and yes, even electricity generation. And while cars, trucks, commercial aircraft, and railroads all contribute to transportation sector emissions, light-duty passenger cars and trucks—basically your typical commuter car and pick-up truck—account for 60 percent of all transportation greenhouse gas emissions.

And just as renewables like wind and solar have been steadily decarbonizing the power sector, we’ve known for years that electric, connected, and automated vehicles show tremendous promise when it comes to mitigating transportation sourced greenhouse gas emissions.

For instance, the U.S. Energy Information Administration released a report back in 2017 concluding that by 2050 connected and autonomous vehicles could lead to a 44 percent reduction in fuel consumption. That same year, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy also released a report, along with a plan of action for vehicle electrification, automation, and ride-sharing in urban areas, where they estimate the potential ceiling for reducing carbon emissions from automobiles at an astonishing 80 percent.

If 60% of transportation sourced CO2 emissions come from automobiles, achieving an 80% drop would lead to a 48% reduction in total transportation emissions. That’s a hell of a kickback in the fight against C02.

And here’s the kicker: according to research from Boston Consulting Group and Detroit Mobility Lab, self-driving and electric cars will help create more than 100,000 US mobility industry jobs in the coming decade, including up to 30,000 jobs for engineers with degrees in computer-related subjects. But the demand could be as much as six times the expected number of such graduates, exacerbating the industry’s already significant talent shortage. With the current unemployment rate, dealing with talent shortages, rather than job shortages, sounds like a breath of fresh air.

Coronavirus and climate change are two crises that don’t just resemble one another; they interact. Except the harm from climate change will be slower, more massive, and longer lasting. And simply dampening climate change without solving it is like turning down the temperature on a pressure cooker without switching it off: the food inside will eventually burn and rot.

The fact of the matter is we won’t have many more chances in our lifetime to make sweeping changes to how we live and move around our communities—at least not with the size and scale of the stimulus on deck.

Which is a good reminder: never let a crisis go wasted.


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.

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