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Arizona Governor Doug Ducey today announced that he has signed an executive order creating the Institute for Automated Mobility (IAM), a brain trust of enterprises, government agencies, and universities that will collaborate on autonomous vehicle testing in Arizona.
IAM will comprise physical centers designed for “complex research” and scenarios, the governor’s office said during a press briefing this afternoon. A Traffic Incident Management division designed and run by the Arizona Department of Transportation and Arizona Department of Public Safety will investigate autonomous technologies for law enforcement and first responders. And at build-out, IAM will boast a simulation lab and an enclosed 2.1-mile test track with multiple route configurations, intersections, signage, and traffic signals.
Among the consortium’s founding members are Intel, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, and all three of Arizona’s public universities — Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University. Its work will be overseen by the Arizona Commerce Authority and Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, chief research and innovation officer at Arizona State University and the governor’s newly appointed Advisor for Science and Technology.
The state has invested $1.5 million in IAM so far, and Intel is throwing in an undisclosed amount.
“IAM will provide a concierge-style service designed to help partners easily and effectively execute their R&D projects,” Dr. Panchanathan said. “The truly comprehensive operating model combined with a commitment to sharing data and best practices will ensure projects can achieve intellectual, economic development and societal outcomes.”
Arizona has played host to self-driving research efforts for the better part of three years, the governor’s office noted. The year 2015 marked the creation of the Self-Driving Oversight Committee, a team of transportation, public safety, and policy experts working to further in-state autonomous cars development. In 2016, a bevy of companies including Intel, Google spinoff Waymo, Ford, Uber, and the Cruise Automation arm of GM established bases of operation, and a year later, in 2017, Intel collaborated with Arizona State University on a study of autonomous vehicle safety.
The accelerated pace of deployment reflects broader national momentum toward driverless car regulation. California in April expanded its testing rules to allow for remote monitoring instead of a safety driver inside the vehicle. In August, the city of Arlington, Texas signed a one-year contract with autonomous car startup Drive.ai. And this week, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation gave the green light to self-driving car startup Aurora, which will be the first officially authorized by the state to test its vehicles on public roads.
To date, more than 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws regarding self-driving cars, and an additional 10 governors have issued executive orders.
There’s been less movement at the federal level — a bill in the Senate, AV Start, has been twice defeated — but this year saw signs of progress. In March, President Donald Trump signed into law a $1.3 trillion spending bill that earmarks $100 million for projects that “test the feasibility and safety” of autonomous cars. And in early October, the Department of Transportation, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, issued the third iteration of its voluntary guidelines on the development and safe deployment of driverless car technology: Automated Vehicles 3.0. In it, regulators posit new safety standards “to accommodate automated vehicle technologies and the possibility of setting exceptions to certain standards … that are relevant only when human drivers are present.”
With IAM, Arizona is seeking to cement its foothold in a lucrative industry — and it’s not the only one. In April, Michigan partnered with Microsoft to open The American Center for Mobility, a nonprofit center autonomous vehicle research.
The driverless car market is expected to be worth $54.33 billion in 2019 — a year before 10 million vehicles are expected to hit the road — and $556.67 billion by 2026, according to Allied Market Research, propelled by verticals such as food delivery and ride-hailing. About $80 billion has been invested in autonomous car research to date.
Ups and downs
But it’s had its challenges. In March of this year, Uber suspended testing of its autonomous Volvo XC90 fleet after one of its cars struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. An investigation by the National Transporation Safety Board later determined that Uber had deliberately disabled the car’s emergency braking systems.
Separately, Tesla’s Autopilot was found to have been engaged in the moments leading up to a fatal Model X collision this spring — the second fatality involving Autopilot since a crash in May 2016. (Tesla said that in the moments leading up to the most recent accident, the driver had received “several visual and one audible cue” to take back control of the car.)
Critics contend that the autonomous car industry lacks an empirical, agreed-upon method of gauging in-vehicle safety. On Wednesday, the RAND Corporation published an Uber-commissioned report — “Measuring Automated Vehicle Safety: Forging a Framework” — that laid bare the challenges ahead. It suggests that local DMVs play a larger role in formalizing the demonstration process and proposes that companies and governments engage in data-sharing.
Public confidence, unsurprisingly, is low. Three separate studies this summer — by the Brookings Institution, think tank HNTB, and the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) — found that a majority of people aren’t convinced of driverless cars’ safety. More than 60 percent said they were “not inclined” to ride in self-driving cars, almost 70 percent expressed “concerns” about sharing the road with them, and 59 percent expected that self-driving cars will be “no safer” than human-controlled cars.
That’s despite the fact that about 94 percent of car crashes are caused by human error and that in 2016 the top three causes of traffic fatalities were distracted driving, drunk driving, and speeding. According to the National Safety Council, Americans’ odds of dying in a car crash are one in 114. In 2016, motor vehicle deaths claimed 40,000 lives.
Tel Aviv, Israel-based Mobileye, which Intel acquired in a $15.3 billion deal last April, proposed a solution — Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) — last October at the World Knowledge Forum in Seoul, South Korea. An accompanying whitepaper describes it as a “deterministic … formula” with “logically provable” rules of the road intended to prevent self-driving vehicles from causing accidents. Intel characterizes it as a “common sense” approach to on-the-road decision-making that codifies good habits, like maintaining a safe following distance and giving other cars the right of way.
“The ability to assign fault is the key. Just like the best human drivers in the world, self-driving cars cannot avoid accidents due to actions beyond their control,” Amnon Shashua, Mobileye CEO and Intel senior vice president, said in a statement last year. “But the most responsible, aware, and cautious driver is very unlikely to cause an accident of his or her own fault, particularly if they had 360-degree vision and lightning-fast reaction times like autonomous vehicles will.”
During today’s press call, Dr. Panchanathan expressed optimism that IAM’s future work, building on foundational approaches like RSS, will help to move the needle forward.
“We have the spirit of collaboration which is seamless between corporate industry, government,” he said. “All disciplines have to come together … to truly build a sustainable and innovative solution.”
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