Gov­er­nor pushes driver­less ve­hi­cle tests in Ari­zona

In­sti­tute for Au­to­mated Mo­bil­ity to pro­mote fu­ture cars


PHOENIX — Four years af­ter al­low­ing com­pa­nies to test driver­less cars on Ari­zona streets, Gov. Doug Ducey is mov­ing to make the state the cen­ter of test­ing for the next gen­er­a­tion of au­ton­o­mous au­to­mo­biles.

In an ex­ec­u­tive or­der signed Thurs­day, Ducey cre­ated the In­sti­tute for Au­to­mated Mo­bil­ity to pro­mote co­op­er­a­tion among state agen­cies, the state’s three uni­ver­si­ties and pri­vate in­dus­try to as­cer­tain ex­actly what’s needed to en­sure that peo­ple are safe, both in­side and out­side of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles. And that in­cludes ev­ery­thing from in­clud­ing de­sign­ing fa­cil­i­ties to test the tech­nol­ogy be­fore its de­ployed, as well as pro­ce­dures to fig­ure out what went wrong af­ter there’s an ac­ci­dent.

But the goal also in­cludes help­ing the state adopt poli­cies for op­er­a­tion of th­ese ve­hi­cles on state roads, rang­ing from who is li­able in case of ac­ci­dents to what hap­pens when a po­lice of­fi­cer pulls over a car or truck and there’s no one be­hind the wheel.

Jack Weast, the chief sys­tems ar­chi­tect of the au­ton­o­mous driv­ing group of In­tel, said test­ing au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles is far dif­fer­ent than the kind of test­ing that ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers al­ready do, much of that in Ari­zona. The first step, he said, is fig­ur­ing out what kind of test track or fa­cil­ity is needed.

He said the stan­dard oval test track used by man­u­fac­tur­ers is of no use in de­ter­min­ing what a ve­hi­cle’s pro­gram­ming will do when con­fronted with any given sit­u­a­tion. And while com­puter sim­u­la­tions can help look for ob­vi­ous flaws, what’s needed to truly test a ve­hi­cle’s ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is some­thing that is closer to a real-world sce­nario.

And that, Weast said, is part of what the in­sti­tute will de­sign.

“That’s where we’re go­ing to look to ex­ist­ing crash stud­ies and things that will help us un­der­stand what are the kind of sce­nar­ios that need to be tested to get as­sur­ance that the ve­hi­cle is mak­ing safe de­ci­sions,’’ he said. The goal, Weast said, is con­struc­tion of a “first-of-its-kind test

fa­cil­ity that’s fo­cused on safety ver­i­fi­ca­tion, not just try­ing to cre­ate a city in the mid­dle of the desert.’’

Ari­zona first al­lowed com­pa­nies to be­gin test­ing their self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles on Ari­zona roads in 2015.

In March, a ve­hi­cle be­ing tested by Uber struck and killed a woman cross­ing the street in Tempe. And two months later, the gov­er­nor signed leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing 200-pound au­to­mated “per­sonal de­liv­ery de­vices’’ to op­er­ate at up to seven miles per hour on side­walks through Au­gust 2020.

But 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. And Adams said it hasn’t been nec­es­sary un­til now to an­swer those ques­tions.

Take the is­sue of li­a­bil­ity.

That ve­hi­cle in the Tempe ac­ci­dent 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 it 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 even plan­ning and zon­ing de­ci­sions.

“How do our roads need to be de­signed dif­fer­ently to ac­com­mo­date more pull­outs for cars as peo­ple pur­chase sub­scrip­tion ser­vices for au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles rather than own it them­selves?’’ he asked.

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.

Sethu­ra­man Pan­chanathan, a vice pres­i­dent at Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity who Ducey ap­pointed as his ad­viser for sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, said he en­vi­sions a “concierge-style ser­vice’’ de­signed to help busi­ness part­ners com­plete their re­search and de­vel­op­ment projects.

San­dra Wat­son, CEO of the Ari­zona Com­merce Author­ity, was more di­rect in say­ing that cre­ation of the in­sti­tute should give Ari­zona a jump over other states in at­tract­ing com­pa­nies here.

“We’d like to make sure that all au­to­mated ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy is be­ing tested in our state,’’ she said. And that means more than just cars but also trucks and even drones, aerial and ground, that are not de­signed to carry pas­sen­gers.

Adams said that last cat­e­gory has cut­ting-edge ap­pli­ca­tions al­ready be­ing tested.

“It’s al­most the size of a golf cart ma­chine in San Fran­cisco that makes your pizza for you while it’s de­liv­er­ing it for you, so that it ar­rives at your des­ti­na­tion hot,’’ he said.

He ac­knowl­edged that raises ques­tions about the safety of hav­ing a driver­less ve­hi­cle weigh­ing sev­eral hun­dred pounds, with an oven at 500 de­grees, run­ning around the streets. Adams said the test­ing con­tem­plated here, cou­pled with the pol­icy dis­cus­sions, that the in­sti­tute is de­signed to an­swer.

But it’s also an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment tool de­signed to at­tract in­dus­try.

“We want Ari­zona to be seen as a place where they can get qual­ity re­search and de­vel­op­ment with our uni­ver­si­ties,’’ Adams said. Con­sider just one pro­ject at Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity.

“If they can put sen­sors and mir­rors on ve­hi­cles to Mars, there’s an ap­pli­ca­tion for au­ton­o­mous sen­sors here on Earth.”

There’s one other el­e­ment of what the in­sti­tute is de­signed to fig­ure out: What went wrong af­ter an au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle crashes.

Adams said the idea is trans­parency, with every­one in­volved — in­clud­ing all the com­pa­nies in the in­sti­tute — shar­ing the in­for­ma­tion. Still, he said, there may be some bumps, par­tic­u­larly as a firm claims “pro­pri­etary tech­nol­ogy’’ they want to keep se­cret.

“But there also should be a way for reg­u­la­tors to val­i­date what did or did not hap­pen in the event some­thing goes wrong,’’ Adams said.


GOV. DOUG DUCEY WEL­COMES UBER’S driver­less test ve­hi­cles to Ari­zona in 2016, say­ing he wanted to pro­mote the tech­nol­ogy with lim­ited state reg­u­la­tion.

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