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

Autonomous Vehicles: Planners Aren’t Planning, Just Reacting

When it comes to planning for transformative technologies like autonomous vehicles, urban planners – whose job it is to project and prioritize transportation investments – have fallen behind and the consequences could be severe.

Only one quarter of 38 cities surveyed by a recent Bloomberg study prioritized AV planning in the last year, and fewer than one in ten cities have been working on AVs for more than three years.

These results come on the heels of a National League of Cities report, which conducted a content analysis of city and regional transportation planning documents from the 50 most populous cities, as well as the largest cities in every state – a total of 68 communities.

Only six percent of transportation plans, at that time, even considered the potential effects of driverless technology, and only three percent of plans took into account private transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber or Lyft, even though TNC’s operate in 60 of the 68 markets.

“We have discovered a widening gap between innovation in the private sector, the expressed preferences of citizens, and the visions of city planners regarding transportation investment,” the NLC concluded.

Whether you live in a city or not, these findings should be cause for concern because experts believe connected and automated vehicles could be the key to solving some of our most pressing urban and regional problems.

Take the environment, for instance:  Transportation has surpassed all other sectors as the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emission, and 60 percent of all transportation spawned emissions come from light-duty vehicles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But there is hope.  By 2050, connected and autonomous vehicles could lead to a 44 percent reduction in fuel consumption, according to a recent Energy Information Agency report.  And the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy 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.

AV tech could also save lives – lots of them.  Car accidents killed 37,461 people in 2016, up 5.6% from 2015, according to the latest data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  That’s the equivalent of one 747 plane crashing every two weeks.

Even the intermediate steps of introducing level one and two advanced driver assist systems, however, is paying off.  Vehicles with automatic emergency braking, for example, see a 40% reduction in rear-end collisions, which is the number one traffic incident in the US.

But urban planners need to be mindful of the darker side of autonomous vehicles as well.

As for congestion, “autonomous vehicles will increase – not decrease – traffic in downtown areas,” according to a recent joint World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group report.  While AVs will reduce the number of cars and overall travel time around cities as a whole, the study discovered the effect is not evenly distributed.  Concentrated downtown areas will potentially see an uptick in congestion.

And if cars get so smart they stop running red lights, speeding, or parking illegally, city officials expect a significant reduction in their city budgets, according to Governing, which conducted the first national analysis of how city revenues might be affected by AVs.

Parking fees are a critical funding source for the Austin Transportation Department, for example, accounting for nearly a quarter of its total budget.  Austin’s transportation director, Robert Spillar was hit by a realization last year.  “Half my revenue for transportation capacity and operations improvements is based on a parking model that may be obsolete in a dozen years,” he told Governing.

Bottom line,  it’s easy to get distracted by the technology –  after all, AVs are the bright new shiny object in the room.  But, we have to remember that it’s not about the technology;  it’s about solving problems.

Engineers build tools to solve problems – that is their contribution to society.  The role of the urban planner, on the other hand, is to find innovative ways to prescribe those tools so that, indeed, problems get solved.

So, planners; start planning.   Harness the good that AV tech has to offer, and mitigate the bad.

Otherwise, you will just be reacting.


Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior tech and policy advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

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Contact the Proving Grounds

College of Engineering

1415 Engineering Drive

Madison WI 53706

United States



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