A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Jul 2, 2017

Cities See Driverless Car Testing Boom As New Gold Rush

But Pittsburgh's soured relationship with Uber suggests this may not become a shower of cash for urban areas. JL

Brent Snavely reports in the Detroit Free Press and USA Today:

The development of self-driving cars has pitched a handful of cities into a new gold rush, a chance to be on the forefront of a new technology that will give rise to billion-dollar companies and thousands of newjobs.Automakers, suppliers and technology companies are clustering in certain cities to test their vehicles. In others, governors and mayors are beckoning the industry to come to their states by changing laws or touting other inducements.
The development of self-driving cars has pitched a handful of cities into a new gold rush, a chance to be on the forefront of a new technology that will give rise to billion-dollar companies and thousands of new jobs.
The stakes are enormous. Last year, Goldman Sachs projected the market for advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles would grow from about $3 billion in 2015 to $96 billion in 2025 and $290 billion in 2035.
In some cases, automakers, suppliers and technology companies are clustering in certain cities to test their vehicles. In others, governors and mayors are beckoning the industry to come to their states by changing laws or touting other inducements. For the moment, most say they aren't dreaming of becoming the Silicon Valley or Detroit of self-driving cars.
“I think it’s about being a part of the race,” said Alex Fischer, CEO of the Columbus Partnership, a group of top CEOs that helped the Ohio city beat out tech hubs such as Austin, Texas, Pittsburgh and San Francisco to win federal grant money through the government's Smart City Challenge.
What is the formula for success? In some places, such as Detroit and Silicon Valley, major corporations form the backbone for the emerging technology. But in others — such as Boston, Pittsburgh and Austin — universities with cutting-edge research have spawned talented engineers and start-up companies.
Here is a rundown of how many of the nation's hot spots have emerged as leaders in the race to self-driving cars. The cities were selected based on research and interviews with industry executives, stakeholders and transportation officials in multiple states conducted by nine reporters and editors at the Free Press, USA TODAY and others from the USA TODAY Network:

Austin

Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler likes to refer to his city as “the Kitty Hawk of driverless cars,” referencing the Wright Brothers' first controlled airplane flight in 1903.
That's because Google's Waymo quietly chose Austin for the first fully autonomous test drive in 2015. Austin is doing pretty much everything it can think of to attract additional self-driving testing, including passage of a city resolution to develop a plan to prepare the city for driverless cars.
The city and the state have put political differences aside to embrace partnerships and legislation designed to attract testing and investment. Austin is part of a statewide consortium that includes the University of Texas and Texas A&M University to create a network of proving grounds and testing areas.
"We are trying to do everything we can to help promote and advance the future of this technology," Adler said. "We think it’s the wave of the future. We think it is going to help our city."

Boston

In October, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced policies intended to put the city at the forefront. Walsh put the city's transportation commissioner in charge of overseeing the city's autonomous vehicle efforts.
"Boston is ready to lead the charge on self-driving vehicles," Walsh said at the time.
Area technology companies are already at work. NuTonomy, a company founded by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2013, has emerged as a leading developer of advanced software for autonomous vehicles.
The company landed a partnership with French automaker PSA Groupe to develop a self-driving SUV in May and has already been testing autonomous vehicles in Boston since the beginning of the year. And earlier this month, the company announced a partnership with Lyft to conduct testing and research in Boston.

Columbus


Columbus leaders are tickled their city was chosen for $50 million in federal and private funding over seven other finalists.
Key to Columbus’ win was the buy-in of the city’s major employers, who have come to view their home city’s preparation for autonomous vehicles as part of the companies’ preparation for profits in the next century. It combined investments from top local companies, the State of Ohio and Ohio State University to pool more than $400 million for autonomous and electric vehicles.
Plans range from upgrading a local test track at massive scale to adding freeway sensors for platooning trucks to updating the region's grid to handle electric-vehicle charging — since automakers say their self-driving offerings will also use little to no gas.
L Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, needs efficient shipping and warehousing. American Electric Power, which serves 11 states, needs to prepare its grid to handle the increased power needs of autonomous electric vehicles. Chase and Huntington banks are readying for increased use of mobile pay apps that would allow people to pay a taxi or bus without a driver.
“There are a select group of cities that are going to be a part of the race. And Columbus is in the race, and it always will be," Fischer said. "Some are going to win on certain projects, Columbus will win on others, and collectively the country will win.”

Detroit

A former industrial site 30 miles southwest of downtown Detroit where Rosie the Riveter worked during World War II is where the Motor City is planting one of its most significant flags in the battle to capture a significant role in the future of self-driving cars.
It is slated to become Michigan's newest testing ground for autonomous and connected vehicles.
“What we’re going to create is ... a lifelike proving ground so we can really exercise these (driverless) vehicles,” said John Maddox, CEO of the American Center for Mobility, which is expected to open later this year. “No one will have the full scope of what we will have.”
The 311-acre testing site — where General Motors' Willow Run plant was once located — was selected earlier this year as one of 10 federal testing sites for autonomous vehicles. The other sites are in Pittsburgh, Texas, Maryland, Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina and two in California.
The American Center for Mobility complements a research center called Mcity in Ann Arbor that is supported by 65 different automakers, suppliers and other technology companies that are using that 32-acre campus to test autonomous vehicles on a site that mimics an urban setting.
And while Gov. Rick Snyder launched Planet M — an initiative to promote the state as a leader in autonomous vehicles — last year, it's the Detroit automakers that form the backbone of the area's claim to leadership.
GM CEO Mary Barra fulfilled the company's promise to help maintain the state's leadership earlier this month when the automaker announced it had produced 130 self-driving Chevrolet Bolt test vehicles at its plant in Orion Township.
Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said last year Detroit “can be and should be ground zero” for the future of mobility, and the Dearborn company is among the automakers that have pledged to launch a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021.

Nashville

Nashville, Tenn., was chosen as one of 10 global cities for an autonomous vehicles initiative launched last year by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Nissan's U.S. headquarters is outside the city in Smyrna, and that the Japanese automaker was among the first to predict when it would field self-driving cars for sale — 2020.
The city’s newly appointed transportation director Erin Hafkenschiel wants to see shared electric autonomous vehicles in Nashville that would operate similar to Uber or Lyft. That would help alleviate congestion problems in tandem with major investments in mass transit, sidewalks and bikeways, she said.
The city has been upgrading its traffic signals to be compatible with autonomous vehicles. Murfreesboro, a suburb of Nashville, received a federal grant that will include installing fiber lines along a major corridor in the city.

Reno

Northern Nevada has been at the forefront of cutting-edge self-driving car testing since 2011 when it became the first state to adopt legislation authorizing self-driving car testing.
Google was lured to Nevada  by the state's dry weather and wide-open spaces, when it ran into early resistance in California.
Google purchased 1,210 acres  at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center for nearly $29.1 million in April, according to people familiar with the deal. Google has not said what it plans to do with the land but it could be used by Google's Waymo unit for research and development of autonomous vehicles or to build a data center.
Plus, Tesla's Gigafactory, a massive 5-million-square-foot factory that began pumping out batteries for its electric cars, is on Reno's outskirts. Tesla has been aggressive in developing self-driving cars and claims that all Tesla vehicles have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability.
Most driverless vehicles are likely to be electric because they need the electrical power provided by lithium-ion batteries to run the additional sensors and computers necessary to guide the vehicle.
More than a thousand employees are assembling energy storage units, using cells provided by Panasonic, at Tesla's sprawling plant just east of Reno. According to Tesla, that workforce will swell to 6,500 by sometime next year.
“Six years ago, we envisioned people buying self-driving cars,” said Bruce Breslow, director of the Nevada Department of Business & Industry. “Now it looks like the first major push is going to be in fleets for self-driving cars, whether it be a taxicab fleet, a transportation network company like Uber or Lyft, or even self-driving trucks.”

Phoenix

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey touts a hands-off regulatory environment in an effort to lure autonomous vehicle testing to his state, and the tactic has led to some high-profile wins.
In December, Uber joined companies such as Waymo and Ford, which were already testing self-driving cars in the state. Uber promptly trucked its self-driving cars to Arizona following a registration dispute in California over not having the correct permits.
Last month, Waymo announced that it would begin taking applications from Phoenix-area residents who want to be among the hundreds of riders testing out an expanded fleet of Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivans outfitted with Waymo's autonomous car sensors.

Pittsburgh

With talented professionals in the autonomous vehicle space at Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania's second-largest city has quickly emerged as an attractive base for the world's leading self-driving car companies.
Uber, which recruited many of CMU's self-driving car experts, has located a major R&D facility in Pittsburgh. And Uber made a splash in September when it became the first major American company to offer urban rides to consumers in partially self-driving vehicles, choosing the confusing, pedestrian-filled, bridge-laden streets of Pittsburgh for the pilot program.
But Uber's relationship
with the city has soured. Mayor Bill Peduto has publicly assailed Uber and former CEO Travis Kalanick for refusing to back the city's application for a federal cities innovation grant and for making a stingy contribution to a philanthropic initiative.
That spat aside, Uber has shown no signs of easing off the accelerator in Pennsylvania. Competitors are fast on its heels. In February, Ford announced that it would invest $1 billion over five years in Pittsburgh-based autonomous car start-up Argo AI.  Ford is relying on Argo AI,  which was founded by two former Carnegie Mellon University researchers,  to develop the software and artificial intelligence that will guide its self-driving vehicles.

Silicon Valley

With Silicon Valley at the heart of developing self-driving cars, California has become a top testing ground.
Google has been letting its high-tech, self-driving cars wheel around the area south of San Francisco for several years. Now, about 30 companies — from traditional automakers to upstart tech companies — have taken out the paperwork to test self-driving cars in the Golden State.
Tech giants such as Apple and Tesla reside in Cupertino, Calif., and Palo Alto, Calif, respectively. Meanwhile, myriad start-ups and smaller technology companies such as Velodyne, which specializes in LIDAR, a laser-based radar that helps driverless cars "see" where they are going, are in Silicon Valley.
Ford and GM have established research and development offices in Silicon Valley, have invested in Silicon Valley-based tech companies and are rapidly adding engineers in the region.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said earlier this month that Apple is working on "the mother of all AI projects" and is building technology to power self-driving cars, but declined to elaborate on what it is. AI, or artificial intelligence, will be used by fully autonomous vehicles to sort through reams of data and make the correct decisions Silicon Valley is the right place to be doing a lot of this work,” says Greg Larson, chief of the Office of Traffic Operation Research for the California DOT. Instead of building a car with a computer, “this is building a computer and putting a car around it.”

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