On Friday, April 14th, over 120 EDG Members, elected officials, business and community leaders gathered to discuss autonomous vehicles: the technology behind it, its implications, current legislation surrounding it, and its financial impacts. Panelists from Arrow Electronics, Uber, Lockheed Martin, and the Colorado Department of Transportation were there to weigh in on the progressive and controversial subject.
Arrow’s famous SAM technology — a 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray — was parked outside the Chamber’s front doors for the event. Chakib Loucif, VP of Engineering, Arrow, described the car in full detail. The corvette was modified by Arrow so that Sam Schmidt, a former Indy Racing League driver, could once again get behind the wheel after becoming quadriplegic. “For the first time in 15 years, I feel normal again,” said Schmidt in May 2014, after driving the car for the first time. Arrow’s innovative technology gives Schmidt the ability to control the vehicle using only movements from his neck. As a billion dollar Fortune 500 Company headquartered here in Centennial, Arrow’s mission is to leverage technology to solve problems. And that they do. Not just for former race car drivers, but for people across the globe. It’s safe to say the company is in support of the push for autonomous tech.
As you’re reading this, Uber has self-driving cars retrieving passengers in Pittsburgh, PA and Tempe, AZ. The technology for self-driving vehicles is certainly here, being tested, and no matter which side of the fence you’re on regarding the subject, the change is happening sooner than anyone could have predicted. Uber’s very own Dave Britton, Uber General Manager of Colorado and Utah, spoke on the company and its use of the vehicles. There are over one billion cars in the world — Uber is trying to help solve transportation issues: cars sitting idle (throughout the day), traffic, business travel, everyday commuting options, and pollution. The company is at the forefront of leveraging autonomous technology and using it for the greater good. After a study they conducted, it was discovered that 10% of millennial Uber riders in the U.S. have either given up a car or not purchased one. This ridesharing trend will only grow. Global financial firm, Morgan Stanley, recently conducted their own survey, and the results: in 2015, ride-hailing mileage accounted for 4% of global miles traveled, but by 2030, Morgan Stanley estimates the number could reach 26%. With the increase in ride-sharing, plus technology available for self-driving cars, it only makes sense that Uber would push forward for such change.
Where does Lockheed Martin stand? Jamie Adams, leader of the LM Autonomous Vehicle Program, Lockheed Martin, spoke on the subject. As a leading global company in aerospace, defense, security, and technology, Lockheed is currently increasing investments in autonomy. The company believes autonomous technology “will be an expectation, not a bonus” in the future. Adams stated the company has a partnership with Ford Motor Company for autonomous vehicles— but not self-driving cars for consumer use. These autonomous systems would be mainly for military vehicles and military use.
It only makes sense that the Colorado Department of Transportation would have opinions on the topic of transit change: Peter Kozinski, Director of CDOT’s RoadX program, was among the panelists. This program will utilize tech to improve road infrastructure. According to their website, “Bold thinking and bold actions drive progress. That means smarter roadways with more informed drivers and, eventually, self-driving cars that can communicate with the roads on which they travel.” In 2016, CDOT committed $20 million to kick-start RoadX, with plans to do such things as connect vehicles and drivers, with the capacity to “talk” to each other, helping to prevent accidents and speed the flow of traffic. It’s a forward-thinking roadmap to keep Colorado’s roads safer and smarter.
Colorado House Representative, Jeff Bridges, concluded the meeting with a few words about autonomous vehicle legislation. Senate Bill 17-213 passed, with an overwhelming majority, and is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper's desk. The bill is three-fold: it states that autonomous vehicles do exist, that they must follow the same rules of the road that normal cars do, and that if these driver-less vehicles are not going to follow road laws, the Colorado Department of Transportation must pass the vehicle.
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