Michigan: On Its Way to Becoming Center of the Driverless Tech Industry?

The future of autonomous vehicles isn't just in the cars themselves, but opening up other industries in technology, manufacturing and engineering around Michigan to be a part of driverless technology.

by Jordan Climie, Holland Sentinel, Mich. / March 15, 2017

(TNS) -- Speaking to the West Michigan Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning, March 14, in Holland, Lt. Governor Brian Calley focused on the future of Michigan's automotive industry, specifically the current push to make the state a leader in autonomous vehicles.

"We really stand on the cusp of developing the technology that will change everything," he said. "It's not just the idea of autonomous vehicles, but the idea that the world is going to change because of this technology and that's gonna affect all kinds of other things, and we're at the forefront of establishing the platforms and the standards but also the other ripple effects that it has on everything else."

Calley went back in history to prove his point on how Michigan has been a standard-bearer for new technology, using a story of how, under Gov. Fred Green, Michigan led the way nation-wide to implement lines on the road to help ease traffic congestion.

"(That's) just one small example of how innovation in Michigan affected the way that the rest of the world worked," he said.

Calley shifted to today, where he lauded the revitalization of the automotive industry and how it helped other industries in Michigan as well.

The next step into the industry's continued growth is autonomous cars, according to Calley. Mcity, located near the University of Michigan and in partnership with the university, was created a few years ago for the testing of autonomous vehicles.

"This quickly filled up because there are so many different entities that are testing and wanting to deploy this technology and all the different major players from around the globe in this space at this facility are engaging in their tests," he said.

Previously, testing for a car to stop before it hit a pedestrian would use a cardboard cut out. Now, a real person will jump in front of the autonomous vehicle on the test track.

"Their confidence in the technology has changed that much," Calley said. "The vehicle is intelligent enough to make decisions and process information at a level that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago, it's just this rapid advancement."

But with the technology advancing, the facility was soon overcrowded. Willow Run Airport was seen as an expansive possibility, with around 330 acres available to researchers and engineers. Currently under construction, it's called the American Center for Mobility. It's expected to receive a visit from President Donald Trump on Wednesday, March 15.

"It is so big and offers four seasons of outdoor testing, which is pretty important," Calley said. "Some of the driverless technology has tried to look at road striping, keeping the car between the stripes in the road, but that doesn't necessarily work all that well, (take) winter in Michigan, for example.

"We get everything, in 10 days we got everything," Calley jokes. "So you can deploy and test all these different conditions and you can do it right here. You have all this action around mobility which is occurring around this region of the country and in our state."

Calley added that the future of autonomous vehicles isn't just in the cars themselves, but opening up other industries in technology, manufacturing and engineering around Michigan to be a part of driverless technology.

On Thursday, March 2, U.S. Senators Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Hills, Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and U.S. Representatives Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney and Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao urging them to include $200 million in their 2018 federal budget request for facilities designated by DOT as proving grounds for automated vehicle testing, such as the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run.

"The auto industry is in the midst of a seismic technological shift that will revolutionize the transportation of people and goods in our lifetime ... Ensuring that American innovators can safely develop and implement this technology will not only save lives but also solidify our nation's position as the world leader in the future of mobility," wrote the Members in the letter. "Identifying and selecting these initial proving grounds was a crucial first step, but USDOT must now work quickly to ensure that testing and evaluation at these facilities can begin as soon as possible. Technology in this area is changing rapidly, and only through thorough testing can we both encourage innovation and assure public confidence in these revolutionary technologies."

The letter calls for federal funding to help support the development of automated vehicle proving grounds and promote safe testing to validate these self-driving technologies and ensure they are ready for use on American roads. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 35,000 people are killed on our roads and highways annually. According to the letter, connected and self-driving vehicle technologies have the potential to reduce accidents and save thousands of lives.

©2017 Holland Sentinel, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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