By Wayne Schutsky GSN Stsff Writer
In his continued push to make Arizona a preeminent destination for autonomous vehicle companies and technology, Gov. Doug Ducey was in Scottsdale last week to announce the establishment of the Institute for Automated Mobility.
“This technology is here to stay and our state, the state of Arizona, has chosen to embrace it,” Ducey said at the DesTechAZ technology conference last Thursday.
The institute, also called IAM, is a partnership of state agencies, Arizona’s three state universities and private corporations that is designed to “shape the future of transportation science, safety and policy,” Ducey said.
IAM’s founding partners include Intel, the state departments of Transportation andPublic Safety, the Commerce Authority and the universities.
This is the next step in Ducey’s long-term effort to make Arizona the self-driving car capital of the U.S.
Arizona first allowed companies to begin testing their self-driving vehicles on Arizona roads in 2015. Since then several major companies have located operations in the state, including Waymo, which has an operations center in Chandler.
Chandler also has modified some zoning regulations for future development to accommodate driverless technology.
Autonomous vehicle operations in Arizona are currently governed by regulations set forth by Ducey earlier this year.
The governor also has signed legislation allowing 200-pound automated “personal delivery devices’’ to operate at up to seven miles per hour on sidewalks.
Kirk Adams, the governor’s chief of staff, said it was not wrong to allow testing to occur here, even without answers to some of the questions his boss now wants the institute to resolve. He said it hasn’t been necessary until now to answer those questions.
Take the issue of liability.
A driverless vehicle that killed a pedestrian in Tempe was owned by Uber, with an Uber employee behind the wheel.
“The line of liability is very clear in that case,’’ Adams said.
The situation is different, he said, if sometime in the future an Arizonan could go to a car lot and buy a fully autonomous vehicle.
“It’s your vehicle, it’s titled in your name,’’ Adams said, but actually is being “driven’’ with technology created by the manufacturer and its suppliers. “Where does the liability go?’’
Then there are things like the design of streets and planning and zoning decisions.
“How do our roads need to be designed differently to accommodate more pull-outs for cars as people purchase subscription services for autonomous vehicles rather than own it themselves?’’ he asked.
For example, Chandler City Council earlier this year modified regulations for parking stalls in new developments to accommodate the possibility that autonomous vehicle travel would require fewer spots.
All that is anticipation of Level 5 automation, meaning absolutely no human interaction. That, in turn, goes to the testing procedures that the universities will set up with private companies, though the only private firm to sign up so far is Intel.
The Arizona Commerce Authority has pledged $1.5 million towards the launch of the new institute. Those funds came from non-state dollars previously allocated to provide small businesses with loans that have now mostly been paid back, ACA President/CEO Sandra Watson said.
Watson said that state transportation officials have secured dollars to fund the construction of IAM’s Traffic Incident Management Center, which will be run by ADOT and Department of Public Safety and provide place for collaboration with law enforcement and first responders.
IAM also plans to build a 2.1-mile test track that will include roadways, signage and traffic signals to test autonomous vehicles in various situations, including specific crash scenarios.
Intel has also made an undisclosed financial investment in the institute.
“We are looking to private sector members like Intel…who would like to join us in advancing science, policy and safety for automated vehicles and mobility,” Watson said.
Though the institute is actively looking for private partners, autonomous vehicle operators will not be required to join the institute to operate here, Watson said.
The goal of the institute is to leverage the expertise of its partners to influence future safety standards, policy, regulations and best practices for automated vehicles.
Jack Weast, senior principal engineer at Intel and vice president of automated vehicle standards at Mobileye, said that testing autonomous vehicles is different than testing traditional cars. He said the institute will look to existing crash studies to understand what types of scenarios need to be tested to ensure they are safe.
The results of these collaborations could affect laws and regulations governing self-driving cars in Arizona in the future.
“The purpose of the Institute for Automated Mobility is to ensure that we are not only advancing science and safety protocols but also policy, so all of the work that is conducted through the institute will inform future policy decisions by the state of Arizona,” Watson said.
The Commerce Authority will oversee the institute, though all founding members will sit on the board of directors and will provide direction on research priorities.
IAM will contribute research and safety solutions to corporate and public partners to help develop best practices for the industry and influence new regulations and policy governing automated vehicles in Arizona and across the country.
“We want to demonstrate that public safety will always remain at the very top of our priority list,” Ducey said.
The universities will contribute research on a various topics, and provide access to a range of experts working in safety, public policy, law, business, engineering and transportation.
“As you can imagine, this truly takes a village approach,” said Dr. Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, who was named Ducey’s advisor for science and technology.
In his role, Panchanathan, a vice president at Arizona State University, will help coordinate research goals and projects between corporate partners and researchers at universities.
Intel, which already provides technology used by autonomous vehicle companies like Waymo, will provide IAM partners access to its MobileEye Responsibility Sensitivity Safety Model as a building block for their own products.
The MobileEye RSS uses mathematical formulas to create a model for safe decision making by autonomous vehicles by defining unsafe situations, their causes and how to respond to them.
What exactly the Institute for Automated Mobility will look like is anyone’s guess at this point. Beyond the test track and Traffic Incident Management Center, there are not concrete plans for what the institute will look like.
Panchanathan said the institute will likely use a phased approach to roll out facilities over time and it could likely make use of existing research labs available at its partner universities.
“It is going to be a multi-phased approach, and we are going to be listening to industry and we are going to be looking at their needs and we are going to continuously shape and build this,” Panchanathan said.
Weast, the Intel executive, said it will take time to determine just what the testing facilities should look like.
“The unique question here in this center is what is the right type of test track or test facility that you need for the purposes of automated vehicle testing and safety verification,” he said, adding:
“We look forward to partnering with the State of Arizona on construction of a first of its kind test facility that is focused on safety verification and not just trying to recreate a city in the middle of the desert.”
-Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.