In an attempt to make Arizona the vanguard of self-driving car research and development, Gov. Doug Ducey and Intel Corp. announced Thursday they are launching an Institute for Automated Mobility that will bring government and private industry together.
The institute will combine the three state universities, Department of Transportation, Department of Public Safety, Commerce Department and companies working on automated cars, trucks and drones, officials said.
The Commerce Authority is committing $1.5 million initially; $1 million more will come from the Transportation Department. Intel will make its own undisclosed financial contribution to the institute, officials said.
“The Institute for Automated Mobility will bring together global industry leaders, a public-sector team and the brightest minds in academia, focused on advancing all aspects of automated vehicle science, safety and policy,” Ducey said in a statement. “Arizona is committed to providing the leadership and knowledge necessary to integrate these technologies into the world’s transportation systems.”
Ducey created the institute via an executive order and announced it Thursday evening at the DesTechAZ technology conference in Scottsdale.
Arizona a hotbed for testing
Arizona is a hotbed for self-driving car testing, but not all of the news has been positive.
Ducey took some heat for a fatal accident in March when a self-driving Volvo operated by Uber ran into a jaywalker on Mill Avenue in Tempe. Ducey had a long history of supporting Uber in Arizona, including welcoming their self-driving vehicles here without any state oversight.
He already had made two executive orders involving the industry, one declaring companies could test the technology here and the second establishing that companies can operate with no driver behind the wheel if officials sign an agreement with the state that they will meet certain requirements.
After the accident, Uber pulled its self-driving operations out of Arizona.
Waymo, a spinoff of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., is running autonomous minivans in the Chandler area, and plans to offer them as a ride service sometime this year.
Waymo officials said recently they have begun testing price plans with the 400 people who are allowed to use the vehicles to get around town.
Intel, which also has been testing self-driving technology near its Chandler facilities, is the institute’s only private-sector partner for now. But officials said they will encourage other companies to join.
Intel in 2016 formed its self-driving car division, and in 2017 acquired Israel-based Mobileye, a self-driving technology company.
‘Unlike any other in the country”
The institute aims to allow partners to research and test automated technology, and it will include laboratories as well as test-course style facilities with road signs and traffic lights, Arizona Commerce Authority President and CEO Sandra Watson said.
“The purpose of the Institute … is to make sure that we are not only advancing science and safety protocols, but also policy,” Watson said, adding that it was “unlike any other in the country.”
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The initial $1.5 million from the Commerce Authority will come from an account that provided loans to innovative small businesses, Watson said. The loans have mostly been offered and repaid, making the money available now to invest in this effort. It won’t be repaid.
The Department of Transportation also is expected to spend about $1 million a Traffic Incident Management facility, Watson said. This will integrate law enforcement with automated technologies. The state is looking for a location for that facility.
Money for the facility will come from federal Highway Safety Improvement Program funds, ADOT spokesman Timothy Tait said.
“The … facility will help prepare first responders to address collisions and other roadway incidents more effectively while enhancing safety for personnel and reducing secondary crashes,” Tait said.
“The facility will also be designed to accommodate testing of advanced technologies for first responders. Police, fire, EMS, towing, highway workers and other responders will all benefit from training offered at a TIM facility.”
The facility will include a test track and simulated freeway and highway segments, and possibly features like a roundabout and freeway ramps.
Other aspects of the institute are likely to be housed in existing university laboratories, at Intel facilities and other partner facilities and possibly the various test tracks automakers have in Arizona, she said.
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The protocols that such a facility could develop might include what kind of information from the car’s computers will be available to law enforcement following an accident, officials said. Chandler may become first U.S. city to tweak zoning rules for self-driving cars
As part of the announcement, Ducey named Sethuraman (Panch) Panchanathan as the institute’s senior science adviser. Panchanathan is executive vice president and chief research and innovation officer of knowledge enterprise development at Arizona State University.
Panchanathan said the institute will offer companies a place to pool knowledge to overcome obstacles.
This would be a dramatic departure from how companies like Uber and Waymo operate today, as they are highly protective of proprietary information.
He said it will have a commitment to sharing data and best practices, so that every company running self-driving vehicles is as safe as possible.
“It helps everybody,” he said. “In other words, it lifts all the boats as the water rises.”
The institute will work on a “concierge-style” model, he said, where the industry brings problems to the institute to solve.
It also could be used to certify self-driving vehicles, officials said.
“How do you know an automated vehicle is worthy of a license to drive?” said Jack Weast, senior principal engineer at Intel and a vice president at Mobileye. “This challenge is one we are very pleased to tackle together with the state of Arizona and university partners.”
He said the institute will allow Arizona universities to train students in advanced automated technology.
“One thing that needs to be tested is the assurance the vehicle is making a safe decision,” he said.
He said the institute also could give the public assurance that the technology is safe.