January 26, 2009, 9:07 PM — DETROIT (AP) -- Michigan International Speedway is hoping to rev its own and Michigan's economic engines by working with the state to use the track best known for NASCAR events to research and test advanced vehicle technology.
The Brooklyn speedway announced Monday that it will give automakers, electronic systems manufacturers and others the chance to test and develop "connected vehicle technologies" year-round in a closed, neutral facility. It would be the first facility of its kind in the U.S.
The technology allows sensor- and computer-equipped vehicles to communicate with each other and outside devices such as traffic signals or electronic signs to prevent collisions and improve traffic flow and fuel efficiency.
State and speedway officials said the center in Jackson County could boost job creation and the state's automotive research and development industry, which now consists of about 330 facilities.
"We kind of had the end with manufacturing, and the beginning with laboratories and universities," said MIS President Roger Curtis, who outlined plans at a news conference Monday morning with state officials. "We didn't have the middle part, the testing opportunity."
Curtis hopes the first customers will come to MIS by late spring or early summer, and initial tests might involve one car and a traffic signal, or a car and deer, to see how such systems work on a closed course. The track will charge an as-yet undisclosed rental fee.
Testing equipment will be installed at the facility gradually, and largely will be supplied by the companies. Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said the state might provide some technology, such as wireless transmitters.
Officials said it's too early to say how many direct or indirect jobs it could create. But they cited a 2007 study by Michigan State University and the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research, which found a state that successfully creates a "lab-to-assembly line" connected vehicle system could create between 16,000 and 41,000 high-tech jobs.
The testing at MIS will be done on both the two-mile oval, also used for driving schools and police training, and an unused 1.9-mile road course built in 1968.
The MIS testing complements public-road testing on Telegraph Road north of Detroit in Oakland County, which state transportation officials announced in November.
Officials stressed the project and a widespread connected-vehicle network is in its early stages. But Center for Automotive Research chairman David Cole, who is working with MIS and MDOT on the project, said it's time to lay the groundwork for a global research hub for next-generation vehicles.
"The opportunity to do something special was here," he said. "The technology is here."
Curtis said the testing certainly helps diversify the speedway's offerings and brings in more money and jobs. But he said the track is a small part of something much larger for the state most affected by the auto industry slump.
"This is really about the state -- the biggest impact is for the state," he said.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.