Detroit News: Senator urges foresight in self-driving vehicle race

Michigan has made progress to lead the development of robotic technology that will drastically change transportation. But lawmakers and business leaders need to ready for what comes after self-driving cars hit the road, according to U.S. Sen. Gary Peters.

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Monday at the Detroit Economic Club that state and federal officials have done well to position southeast Michigan as a hub for the development of autonomous vehicles.

The American Center for Mobility at Willow Run already has companies testing technology on the recently opened driverless-car proving grounds. Google’s self-driving vehicle spinoff, Waymo, had been testing its vehicles in Novi. Ford Motor Co. tests in Dearborn. General Motors Co. plans to build its autonomous vehicles at Orion Assembly plant in Orion Township.

With launch dates approaching, and the technology continuing to evolve, Peters said Monday he wants to ensure the state is ready to move to develop the next phase of the technology when the time comes.

GM plans to launch its first market-ready autonomous vehicles on public roads in 2019. Ford is targeting a 2021 launch date. Meantime, a slew of technology companies and automotive suppliers are developing their products in Michigan.

“We’re building that momentum, but you’ve got to keep building it,” Peters said. “Other areas of the country are looking at this as well. They see self-driving cars as just a major step towards what will be a much broader (artificial intelligence) revolution.”

Peters was pulling from talks he’s had with executives from Silicon Valley, he said. Some of those technology-focused companies are looking at self-driving vehicles as a form of artificial intelligence that will be mass-produced and see a rapid adoption.

The technology developed to put autonomous vehicles on the road will be applied across several industries, Peters said.

And Michigan can continue to lead there. Politicians and business leaders often say autonomous technology will “disrupt” industry. The disruption from automated technology will happen on roads, in factories and even in the military.

But Peters said Monday that “disruption” is the wrong way to think about the changes automation will bring.

“AI will be ready to transform every single industry you can possibly think of,” he said. “Change is only disruptive it it’s happening to you. If you are leading the change, it becomes transformational. Self-driving vehicles and artificial intelligence have the potential to completely transform Michigan, but only if we lead in this technological shift.

“Michigan must and will assert itself.”

That means attracting new talent, investing in infrastructure and improving education.

Peters said he and other Michigan politicians bear some of the responsibility to push for Michigan’s leadership on that front. Companies headquartered in Michigan can’t “rest” on the historical position as a leader, Peters said.

He pointed to Detroit’s failed bid for Amazon’s second North American headquarters for evidence of what happens when the state stands still.

Regional leadership said in January that Detroit failed to advance to a list of 20 cities largely due to a lack of regional transit and an inability to attract the 25- to 30-year-old “talent” Amazon needs.

Peters said Monday that the boon self-driving vehicle development is currently providing the state must boost the right investment to keep the momentum going.

“The government can’t do this alone,” he said. “It’s up to Michigan companies. (They) need to be part of that solution to recruit the talent that we need, and train the talent from not just around the country, but around the world as well.”

By:  Ian Thibodeau
Source: Detroit News