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Group Wants to Build Corridor for Unmanned Vehicles

A trade group wants to create a pathway for self-driving vehicles from Canada, through North Dakota and other states south to Mexico.

by Jessica Holdman - The Bismarck Tribune / March 23, 2014
Wireless communication allows cars to be aware of all other vehicles on the road, even if the driver is not. Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Transportation. U.S. Department of Transportation

A trade group wants to create a pathway for self-driving vehicles from Canada, through North Dakota and other states south to Mexico. 

One of the issues with the middle part of the U.S. is the lack of north-south avenues to move commerce, said Marlo Anderson of the Central North American Trade Corridor Association. Rail and major roads move east to west.

"The challenge is to find ways to better utilize our north-south routes," he said.

The association is starting an initiative to develop regulations for driverless vehicles, whether on the ground or in the air. It will discuss the initiative Wednesday and Thursday at the Trade & Transportation Summit in Bismarck.

The corridor would allow someone to program a vehicle in Texas to deliver goods to Minot.

Anderson said BMW and Audi already make unmanned vehicles and the car makers are supportive of the association's efforts.

"It's a proven but still emerging technology," said Bill Davis of the association. "In the first step of this project, we're trying to create interest and awareness ... The more effective we can be with transport, the more competitive we can be economically."

With a shortage of long-haul drivers, Anderson said a self-moving flatbed could be a new way of shipping freight. The self-propelled vehicle could be used in the early morning when fewer drivers are on the road, he said. Self-driving also means it does not have to adhere to the hours of operation regulations long-haul drivers face.

Anderson said concerns come in is liability in an accident.

"The technology is ahead of the regulations that are out there," he said.

Anderson said the association plans to approach each state along the corridor individually to develop a set of hauling regulations that would work in all places.

On a federal level, Anderson said aerial drones also could become part of the corridor as the U.S. government makes regulations for unmanned aircraft.

"It hasn't reached the commercial market yet because there are no rules and regulations," said Al Palmer, director of the University of North Dakota Center for Unmanned Aerial Systems Research, Education & Training.

Anything is possible though, Palmer said. He predicts there's going to be uses for the drones in the future for farming, the energy industry or even real estate.

Palmer said North Dakota has always played a leadership role in aerospace education. The state also is in the northwestern line of flight for trade with countries in Asia and eastern Europe.

Davis said because North Dakota is a large producer of agricultural commodities, the corridor could spur more processing plants in the state to add value to the products produced here.

Anderson said because of the opportunity the Bakken has created, more modes of transport have come into the spotlight.

"We're extremely well positioned," Palmer said.

Anderson said in three to five years he hopes to have a trial corridor, maybe from Bismarck to Minot or to Pierre, S.D., to prove the technology.

Along the route, Anderson said ports would need to be developed to fuel and service the vehicles and drones. That would create a business opportunity for local entrepreneurs, he said.

"I think it's very visionary," said Steve Pederson, acting chairman of the association. "Ten years from today, things are going to be a lot different than they are now in transportation."


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