Michigan Pitching Itself as Autonomous Vehicle Playland

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In what looks more like a move to unlock Michigan for incumbent auto manufacturers than a move to make itself more Tesla friendly, a new bill seeks to make the state more friendly to autonomous vehicle technology development.

Being the home to many large automakers, notably General Motors and Ford, Detroit (and more broadly, Michigan) is effectively under attack by the flood of electric vehicle manufacturers standing up new manufacturing plants out on the West Coast of the US. The new wave is swelling up largely as a result of Tesla Motors, with the latest surge coming in the form of reservations for the Tesla Model 3 — the “affordable” EV.

Faraday Future is also pushing a fervent pace from its Los Angeles, California, headquarters. After having recently broken ground on a factory just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, it is now working on standing up another factory in California. We are still waiting to see what a Faraday Future production vehicle looks like, as the company has only shown off a high-tech batmobilesque concept to date. But the company does seem intent on getting to market as soon as possible.

Michigan isn’t going down without a fight, as we can see in the details of a new Michigan bill, explained by Gov Tech (via Planetizen). The new bill not only addresses concerns related to driverless technology, but also contains language supporting “platooning,” or the grouping together of autonomous cars in an intelligent caravan for safety and efficiency.

While many people may think that Tesla is already bringing the autonomous future to drivers today, in the real world, the current implementation of autopilot is actually more of an advanced form of cruise control that takes over speed control and the steering wheel in an advanced form of lane-keeping assist. That’s not to say that it’s unoriginal or boring — it’s extremely advanced — but it’s no autonomous driver either.

What that means is that we still have quite a few technological as well as regulatory hurdles to clear before it’s actually okay to nap in the driver’s seat … or rather, the seat formerly known as the driver’s seat. Fully autonomous driving is still, surprisingly, prohibited essentially everywhere — even in the tech-friendly home of Tesla that is California, as well as every other state in the Union.

To date, Google has been the leader in pushing autonomous driving tech forward in California, recently scoring wins in allowing the vehicle to be defined as the driver and other refinements in autonomous driving terminology.

The autopilot/driverless additions are all logical steps in the obvious direction to support the inevitable autonomous driving future we are moving toward, but what’s really exciting about these changes is the addition of platooning.

The idea behind platooning is that, in a few years, cars will be able to talk to each other, and when humans don’t have to be relied on, cars can run together in packs with only a few meters … or centimeters … between them.

Running in caravans will allow slugs of cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles to travel as a proverbial train, cutting aerodynamic drag to a minimum while also maximizing the number of vehicles that a given road can handle. Additionally, a connected caravan can add and remove vehicles much more efficiently than feeble human drivers, minimizing accidents resulting from the always dreaded freeway merge.

Looking towards the future, this new bundle of Senate bills (995–998) look beyond just driverless transport and fleet intelligence and also address pre-crash data collection, include provisions for mechanics working on autonomous vehicles. It even seeks to set up an autonomous vehicle research center in the state.

While it’s not clear yet if the federal government will step in to lay the foundation for autonomous driving in the US, it is obvious that competition for jobs is kicking off a battle that is only yet in its infancy.

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

Kyle Field has 1638 posts and counting. See all posts by Kyle Field

2 thoughts on “Michigan Pitching Itself as Autonomous Vehicle Playland

  • Detroit’s original advantages for auto manufacturing (other than attracting/keeping the right entrepreneurs) had a lot to do with basic economic geography: coal from the Appalachians, iron from Minnesota — even US oil and natural gas started in Pennsylvania, then moved west into Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The right resources were all right there.
    Now EVs look like the right vehicle for the US West Coast: lithium in Nevada, a whole portfolio of sustainable energy resources throughout the US West, and gasoline prices in the West that are consistently higher than in the rest of the country, so why not develop transport tech that’s a better fit to the local environment? And Silicon Valley is getting bored; how many “Moore-years” has it been since smartphones re-made the world? Turning cars into the killer-app of robots is a great transition to take computers from intelligent paperweights to the kind of intelligence that can, you know, do something, like move stuff around. This is nearly the perfect confluence of factors to allow California to finally remake the car to its liking.
    Detroit can stay in the game as long as they realize that the game itself is changing, even more than it did when Japan’s rice-burners showed up to fill niches that gas-hogs from Broadacre City didn’t even know were there. Robotic ecosystems that feed off electrons from sunlight can fill the literal space of this solar system’s Habitable Zone. EVs are simply the logical next step in this much, much larger picture.

  • I do think that “platooning” will be a big thing for trucks, since I don’t expect them to go away very soon. The fist spot we see “driverless” in the US might be interstate, since the are controlled access it is a easier environment.

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