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GM Expands Testing and Deployment of Self-Driving Cars in Michigan

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【Summary】Michigan, with unpredictable weather and dilapidating roads, presents several challenges for engineers. These new obstacles in development may help groups in the area hone their autonomous driving products more effectively to thrive in such undesirable conditions.

Original Michael Cheng    Dec 19, 2016 12:06 PM PT
GM Expands Testing and Deployment of Self-Driving Cars in Michigan

In a move to revive the local auto industry, Michigan has spent most of the year baiting car manufacturers and tech giants to setup shop in the state. One of the first automakers to make its way to the area is GM. The group announced that it will manufacture fleets of self-driving Chevrolet Bolts in a Michigan facility.

According to the company's CEO Mary Barra, GM will also be testing its driverless platform on public roads in the state – specifically metro Detroit. This marks the third location the establishment is expand to. The company also has ongoing testing programs in San Francisco, California and Scottsdale, Arizona. In Michigan, it joins Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, Toyota and Uber in influencing the state's autonomous vehicle laws.

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Why Michigan?

When it comes to an ecosystem conducive for car manufacturers and developers of self-driving technology, Michigan does not have a lot to offer (except for lax driverless car regulations), compared to other tech savvy, urban locations with updated road and city infrastructure. But at this stage of development, groups pioneering the sector are not exactly looking for cities with easily controllable environments. Michigan, with unpredictable weather and dilapidating roads, presents several challenges for engineers. These new obstacles in development may help groups in the area hone their autonomous driving products more effectively to thrive in such undesirable conditions.   

"Revolutionizing transportation for our customers while improving safety on roads is the goal of our autonomous vehicle technology, and today's announcement gets us one step closer to making this vision a reality," said Barra. "Our autonomous technology will be reliable and safe, as customers have come to expect from any of our vehicles."

 

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SAVE Act Driverless Regulations

The SAVE Act is Michigan's secret weapon in attracting investors and developers to the state. Earlier this year, the Michigan Senate Economic Development and International Investment Committee reviewed considerations for the proposal, which was comprised of Senate Bills 995, 996, 997 and 998. Collectively, all four bills were passed unanimously by the Senate on September 7, 2016 (36-0).

The package comes with several unique autonomous driving regulations. First, it would allow driverless cars to be used on public roads – outside of testing or closed pilot programs. Under the SAVE Act, computer systems could act as a driver during operation. Moreover, liability protection would be offered to mechanics working on self-driving car projects. It also prioritizes the development of the planned American Center for Mobility at the former GM Willow Run facility in Ypsilanti. The state's economic development group approved $20 million in funding for the facility in July.

Perhaps the most interesting set of bills under the SAVE Act includes Senate Bills 995 and 996. Under the proposed legislations sponsored by Sen. Kowall, commercial platooning, or a string of three-to-five cars or trucks moving autonomously and harmoniously together, would be permissible on streets and highways.

"As far as I know, Michigan is the first state to make it official that these types of vehicles can be used on public roads," said Brandon Schoettle, a project manager with the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute.

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