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piloted on its roads. In June, USA Today reported that more than 30 companies had so far filed the paperwork required to test autonomous vehicles in the state.
After becoming the very first state in the nation to pass legislation enabling the testing of autonomous vehicles in 2011, Nevada has been a favorite place to pilot self-driving cars and trucks. Google wound up conducting tests there after initially running into resistance from California. The company recently spent more than $29 million to buy 1,210 acres of land at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.
Nevada is also home to Tesla’s Gigafactory, a 5 million-square-foot facility that manufactures batteries for its electric vehicles. Since Tesla is also heavily involved in developing driverless cars, we can expect to see continued activity from Elon Musk’s company in Nevada.
The state is also testing vehicle-to-infrastructure technology, which would allow self-driving cars to communicate with traffic lights and other smart-city systems. Audi piloted its Traffic Light Information program in Las Vegas due to the city’s advanced traffic management system, the Las Vegas Sun reported earlier this year. With its dry climate and miles of flat, sparsely populated highways, Nevada is likely to continue being a hotbed for driverless car testing.
With a favorable regulatory environment, well-maintained roads, and sunny climate, metro Phoenix has become a center for driverless car testing. Companies that have piloted autonomous vehicles in Arizona include Uber, Waymo, and Ford. (Last December, Uber relocated some of its testing programs to Phoenix after a spat with California over permits, USA Today reported.)
In October of this year, Ars Technica reported that Waymo would soon test an autonomous taxi service—Chrysler Pacificas with no human safety drivers—on the roads with actual customers. Waymo reportedly wanted to launch a commercial ridesharing service powered by driverless cars as soon as late 2017, starting in suburban Phoenix.
Waymo has missed its aggressive targets in the past, so we likely won’t see the fleet of Pacificas operating commercially until 2018 at the soonest. As of November, the company was still accepting early rider applications for families that want to test the vehicles during the development stage.
Southeast Michigan—which encompasses Detroit, capital of the domestic auto industry; Dearborn, where Ford is headquartered; Oakland County, where most of the world’s Tier 1 suppliers have an office; and Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan is located—is the largest transportation technology hub in the world. Accordingly, it has been mounting a serious effort to lead the development of self-driving cars.
When driverless technology began to make headlines a few years ago, many in the tech world thought that the domestic auto industry was too big, too slow, and, well, too dumb to be a serious player in the development of autonomous technologies. It was assumed Silicon Valley giants like Google and Tesla would lead the charge, but then the auto industry realized it was in danger of becoming obsolete in less than a generation—and it quickly got to work investing in talent and R&D, as well as establishing partnerships with tech companies to advance driverless technologies.
The region is home to two major test beds—U-M’s MCity and the American Center for Mobility—and more engineers per capita than anywhere else in America. The state also has some of the loosest driverless car regulations in the country. The Techstars Mobility program, which incubates startups from all over the world working in the realm of connected cars, is also based in Detroit. Just a few days ago, Automotive News reported that Ford will establish an “autonomous vehicle center of excellence” in Flat Rock, just outside of the Motor City, in the coming months as part of a $700 million investment; the publication also said Ford still plans to launch self-driving cars “at scale” in 2021.
Transportation innovation is in Michigan’s DNA, and the state’s business leaders are keen on making sure it stays that way. In a recent conversation, Chris Thomas, a partner at Fontinalis, the Detroit venture capital firm co-founded by Bill Ford and specializing in mobility investments, said that despite Detroit’s long history with the automotive industry, it shouldn’t presume it has a place at the front of the line.
“Michigan is doing a good job, but it needs to continue to want to be better and run fast,” Thomas warned. “People say it’s our birthright, but I couldn’t disagree more. We need to run after it in a way we haven’t as a [unified] region. Can we win? Yes. Should we win? Yes. Will it be given to us? No—full stop. It will require incredible hard work, focused strategic thinking, and working together.”