AV frontier is here now: Michigan at technology forefront, says Mobility Summit keynote speaker

Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, speaks Thursday during the Mobility Summit at Michigan Technological University’s Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts. Steudle spoke about recent legislation which encourages the development of autonomous vehicles.

HOUGHTON — The transition to connected and autonomous vehicles has begun, and Kirk Steudle wants Michigan Technological University to be a big part of that change.

Steudle is director of the Michigan Department of Transportation and was the keynote speaker Thursday at the Mobility Summit at Tech Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts.

The summit included discussions and breakout sessions on connected and autonomous vehicles, technology enabling mobility, education, infrastructure and human factors.

Steudle said Gov. Rick Snyder is committed to the technology changes regarding transportation, and he recently signed three pieces of legislation focused on those changes, some of which have started, and some which are yet to come.

Part of Snyder’s plan for rebranding Michigan as a technology leader in the transition to the next step in transportation is called Planet M, Steudle said. It’s motto is Michigan is “The Place Where Great Ideas Are Born.”

“You are part of Planet M,” he told the summit participants. “Seventy-five percent of all North American research and development is done in Michigan. Michigan Tech is a significant part of Planet M.”

The fact that so much R&D is being done in Michigan might not be well-known. Steudle said Snyder wants that to change.

“We said, ‘We need to talk about this more,'” he said.

Steudle said the legislation recently signed by Snyder will allow the development of new transportation technologies with little interference from government.

As for autonomous vehicles, Steudle said the legislation allows testing of autonomous vehicles (AVs) on all public roads at anytime without special permits required.

“We’ve been testing vehicles on Michigan roads since there’s been vehicles,” he said.

There won’t be privately-owned AVs for quite a while, Steudle said, but the legislation to allow it has been created.

“I don’t expect that will happen soon,” he said.

Also in the legislation regarding the operation of AVs, Steudle said there was nothing about the age of the operator, because it is uncertain how that will work.

“Are you the operator, or is the person operating the software the operator?” he asked. “When we get to that point, then it will be time for public discussion.”

Another coming change is open truck platooning for freight transportation, Steudle said. Platooning involves a lead vehicle with a computer controlling the speed of the vehicle, which sets the pace for trailing vehicles. The trucks must have a driver steering and braking the vehicle.

“It will happen this summer,” he said of the road testing of truck platooning.

The recent legislation addresses other topics, such as ride sharing with AVs, the support of Michigan in the R&D for new transportation technology, deciding how insurance should work for AVs and what liabilities there will be, cyber security regarding AV technology, how to address disabled and elderly people and AVs, and protection for mechanics who properly work on AVs.

The legislation also created the American Center for Mobility, an R&D facility being constructed at a facility formerly used to build bomber airplanes during World War II, Steudle said.

In finishing his presentation, Steudle referenced the movie “I, Robot,” which included autonomous vehicles.

“Hollywood is ahead of us,” he said. “We’ve just got to figure out how to make it happen.”