Bright lights, Mcity: Self-driving startups head east

After all, what company wouldn't want to work in a place built entirely for autonomous car development?

Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
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Mcity's like any other city...any other city built solely for the development of autonomous vehicles, that is.

Daryl Marshke/UM Photography

The first "city" built for self-driving vehicle development isn't in Silicon Valley, it's in Michigan. MCity is basically a big playground for autonomous vehicles, and naturally it's attracting the attention of startups that want to make it big in this new field. So much attention, in fact, that some West Coast companies are shipping employees out east.

Three different California-based autonomy startups are setting up bases in MCity, the Detroit Free Press reports. Zendrive relies on phone sensors to monitor driving behavior, which can be used for improving driver safety. PolySync created a system that programmers can use to perform functions efficiently. Civil Maps has a 3D-mapping system that will be used to help self-driving cars navigate around town.

The startups will be sending employees to TechLab, which gives startups access to University of Michigan resources, including its own experts and the giant test facility known as Mcity. The goal is to create a collaborative, not competitive, environment to help foster the development of autonomous vehicles. There's also the potential to recruit UM students into these fledgling businesses.

"TechLab at Mcity represents a learning opportunity for engineering students that is uniquely available at UM," said Thomas Frank, executive director of UM's Center for Entrepreneurship, in a statement. "We are expanding this program because the demand from both emerging companies and students interested in participating is extremely high."

Zendrive was the first of these three companies to establish roots in Michigan, working with UM's Center for Entrepreneurship last year and bringing a few UM summer interns into the fold. Civil Maps has a connection to this part of Michigan, as well -- Ford recently invested $6.6 million in the mapping startup.

A look at Mcity, a test site for self-driving cars (pictures)

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