Snyder: Michigan poised to be a leader in autonomous vehicle research
Gov. Rick Snyder is hopeful that Lansing soon will approve legislation that would allow researchers to test autonomous vehicles on the open road in Michigan.
Allowing such research, he says, is key to southeast Michigan securing a place as a leader in the development of future automotive technology.
"Michigan should be a leader in all of this," he said, citing Michigan's background in engineering and manufacturing. "The job opportunities for people in these fields is going to be outstanding."
Thousands of vehicles equipped with wireless technology that essentially allows the cars to talk to each other and the infrastructure around them have been driving around northeast Ann Arbor since August. The deployment is part of a federal grant awarded to U-M. The government is testing how drivers adapt to the technology and whether it helps motorists avoid crashes.
When U-M began the deployment, state officials, industry leaders and top U-M researchers amped up discussions on how Michigan could leverage the opportunity to become a nucleus of future automotive development.
John Maddox, director of U-M Transportation Research Institute's collaboration program, said the project "contributed" to Snyder's confidence that Michigan can still attract companies to do their research and development here.
Autonomous vehicle research seems to be the next step and Snyder —who called himself a cheerleader for autonomous vehicle development in Michigan— is looking to break down legal barriers impeding research.
"We have an incredible opportunity with him because he's a technician and he's also in a place of power, he can affect incredible change," Maddox said in an interview.
"For a long time we've maintained that we're at the center of the auto industry. Other folks now are trying to take that from us. We are the center of the connected vehicle movement right now," Maddox continued. "We have the largest deployment in the world, not just in the United States, and we are actively testing these vehicles with people from the community. "
Maddox said 4,400 people signed up to be a part of the 3,000-car deployment.
Snyder said the biggest hurdle in integrating autonomous vehicle research on state roads is educating the public so people are not fearful of the technology.
"I don't see why there should be a lot of obstacles," he said. "It's more communicating to the public about their fears and concerns about having autonomous vehicles driving around. ... This doesn't mean [cars are on the road] without a human ... you're having a human backup system."
Snyder said he's pushing for autonomous vehicle research in Michigan because it will create jobs and the vehicles will save infrastructure costs in the long term.
In his January State of the State address, the governor announced his intention to allow autonomous vehicle testing on public roads. He's hopeful Senate Bill 169 will spur more automated vehicle research in Michigan and said the legislation is poised to pass "relatively soon."