November 15, 2016

Michigan becomes the first state to legalize driverless cars

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is projected to soon sign a bill that will result in the state becoming the first to legalize driverless cars.

A key aspect of that law would also permit a fleet of driverless trucks to travel "in a unified manner at electronically coordinated speeds," something the bill referred to as "platooning."

The provision is good news for Uber which, which recently acquired the autonomous truck company Otto. Uber has said its new acquisition will revolutionize the trucking industry in the United States. An Otto truck recently completed its first test run: a beer delivery in Colorado.

Many Players Entering the Market

Telsa is also set to compete in the driverless trucking niche, releasing plans back in July on the production of all-electric semi trucks in 2017.

“I think the role of [truck] drivers will sort of translate to ‘fleet manager’,” Tesla founder Elon Musk recently told CNBC. “I think that’s a more interesting job than driving one."

Musk and other describe a system where one person oversees a fleet of traveling trucks all guided by an autonomous software system, like the one recently developed by Peloton Technology.

“We are planning to utilize the Michigan law as soon as possible - we will start commercially deploying our platooning system next year, and will have products on the road much sooner than Otto or Tesla,” Peloton’s Jonny Morris recently told Inverse.

While recently passed laws in California and Pennsylvania have cleared the lane for autonomous cars with drivers on open roads, Michigan has gone much further over the last year, attracting tech companies in the process. In May, Google released plans with Chrysler to construct a self-driving car development facility in Michigan. Uber is also expected to shift its focus to the Great Lake State.

However, the state's bill does raise questions around how it will construct the sort of infrastructure required for the safe usage of driverless vehicles. At the moment, Michigan guidelines say a car would have to drive one million miles of road tests first. Tesla reports that its users have driven 222 million miles in its autonomous system. Musk has also said that his system needs a human driver.

Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to launch national regulations for driverless cars in the near future. This means an autonomous driving system would have to meet federal guidelines to be legal, regardless of any state laws.


Image credit: Flickr/jurvetson