Make no mistake, South Korea is competing hard with the U.S. for a piece of the self-driving pie and is investing heavily to help make it happen.
While the likes of Waymo, Uber, and Tesla spend big on developing autonomous driving technology in the U.S., the South Korean government has been busy building one of the world’s largest test spaces for local firms to test their driverless vehicles.
“K-City” covers 80 acres (3.45 million square feet) of land and this week the first section opened for companies that are keen on using the facility to test their technology in conditions that mimic real-life road conditions. Samsung, SK Telecom, Hyundai, and Kia Motors are among a number of companies expected to make use of K-City.
In an effort to offer realistic driving conditions, the site, which is located about 20 miles south of Seoul, includes “highways, downtown areas, city outskirts, and communal environments,” the Korea Herald reported.
Testers will also find several narrow streets for their autonomous cars to navigate, as well as things like pedestrian crossings, toll gates, construction sites, train track crossings, and tunnels.
And to make it even more real, K-City’s designers have added a few potholes around the site.
The first section to open is the four-lane highway, while the entire facility should be ready by late 2018. South Korean officials told the Herald that the opening of the highway will help support the government’s plan for the commercialization of Level 3 autonomous cars within three years. Level 3 vehicles can perform a variety of tasks autonomously but a driver should always be ready to take over if required. Check out Audi’s Traffic Jam Pilot for an example of Level 3 autonomy. For more context, a manual car is classified as Level 0, while a fully autonomous car — one that requires no driver — is Level 5.
K-City is certain to come in handy for engineers who are keen to conduct trials on the very latest software for autonomous vehicles before they utilize it on public roads. It will also prove handy for gathering large amounts of driving and road data that could be useful for urban planners.
The largest testing site in the U.S. that is similar to K-City is Waymo’s “Castle,” a “fake city” built in the California desert. Covering 100 acres, the location comprises roads, intersections, and driveways, while engineers use traffic cones, mannequins, and other cars to create realistic road conditions.
But even larger than these sites is a facility designed by the University of Michigan at the historic Willow Run site, a former General Motors aircraft plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which made B-24 bombers during World War II. That will cover an enormous 335 acres when it opens in December, 2017.