During the Texas Mobility Summit, 30 companies and colleges displayed their latest in robotics, scooters, connected signals and other transportation innovations.
(TNS) — Formed to keep the state at the forefront of mobility and innovation, the Texas Innovation Alliance was drawn to Arlington — where self-driving vehicles and a robotic pedestrian interacted at its third annual conference.
In placing its Texas Mobility Summit there, the alliance of cities and research institutions finds itself in the heart of the action. The summit is in Arlington's entertainment district, where just last week the city unveiled the area's first free automated shuttle service available to the general public.
At the summit's Demo Day on Sunday, 30 companies and colleges displayed their latest in robotics, scooters, connected signals and other transportation innovations. In one highlight, the driverless vehicles including those Arlington has put into service were live on the streets with Texas A&M University's pedestrian robot.
Just about a mile away is the North Central Texas Council of Governments headquarters, where leaders of the 12-county region earlier this month made NCTCOG the first metropolitan planning organization in the country to commit millions to an automated vehicle program.
"We want to be forward-thinking and proactive in engaging emerging transportation technology and business types, so we can offer the best transportation system to the region," said Tom Bamonte, NCTCOG's senior program manager for automated vehicles.
Lyndsay Mitchell, strategic planning manager for Arlington, said that in addition to its drive.ai autonomous vehicles, the city is excited to show off its on-demand ride-share partnership with Via. It's a groundbreaking arrangement in that the city itself provides the service, qualifies for Federal Transportation Administration funding and has provided over 70,000 rides since its December 2017 kickoff.
"We see ourselves being out in the forefront in mobility solutions," Mitchell said. "Testing things and really being able to learn about technology in a real-world environment."
Formed three years ago, the Texas Innovation Alliance is focused on advancing mobility solutions not for technology's sake, but to address the challenges of its cities.
"We've worked a number of years to determine what would work in each region," said Darran Anderson, director of strategy and innovation for the Texas Department of Transportation. "We've identified specific problems, stated specific challenges, and we're ready to work now to address those. That's a pretty powerful message."
The state's law enabling autonomous vehicles, passed in 2017, has been a catalyst that has attracted the industry and kept the state in front of the conversation, Anderson said.
Texas' variety of climates and urban and rural settings also attract problem-solver companies and research. Anderson likened the potential for autonomous vehicles to water sensors in a smart grid or telecommunications services that delivered doctors' help to rural outposts in response to Hurricane Harvey.
"Once you show a new capability is safe and reliable, the next step is to show how does it improve quality of life," he said. "How can this make living in a given region better? Don't get fixated on a tool. Focus on the social aspect."
In what it called Autonomous Vehicles 1.0, the council of governments in 2016 supported the autonomous vehicle deployments in Arlington and Frisco.
The 1.0 program directed other grants to help cities create a more connected traffic signal system and also to encourage cities to put traffic information into the Waze system to help motorists navigate the region's transportation system.
On Oct. 11, the Regional Transportation Council passed AV 2.0, which will help cities deploy automated vehicles as the region attracts more attention for robotaxis and autonomous freight delivery.
The council of governments will distribute up to $1.5 million for its cities to have planning assistance ahead of autonomous vehicle deployment. Total funding up to $10 million for the actual programs would follow.
The hope is that by reimbursing local governments for costs incurred in partnerships with AV companies, North Texas will become a regional leader as automated vehicles are deployed. Google, General Motors and Ford are among those planning large-scale AV production over the next few years.
"We don't know how it's going to go, but we do want to be prepared if the technology comes fast," Bamonte said. "And we will be prepared however the technology comes."
There would also be some $20 million in planning grants for what the council of governments calls "regional priority projects," for support where needs exist, but AV developers in the private sector are less willing to partner with local governments.
©2018 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.