Michigan Gives Automakers License to Drive Autonomously

Look out, Silicon Valley: Detroit may take the lead with self-driving cars.

Michigan Self driving cars
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Governor Rick Snyder signed into effect new legislation that could make Michigan the hotbed of autonomous-vehicle testing.

The new regulations grant auto manufacturers and technology companies wide latitude with testing self-driving technology, and even permit on public roads cars without steering wheels, accelerators, or brake pedals. Automated vehicle platoons and on-demand autonomous vehicle networks are authorized under this bill, which also opens up autonomous-vehicle testing to companies other than manufacturers. Prior to Snyder's signing, only vehicles built by major automakers were permitted to test the technology.

This should make Alphabet X leaders happy. The technology giant's self-driving division has been chafing under the California regulations that require all autonomous vehicles to have conventional piloting systems that enable the test driver to retake control in the event of an emergency.

The company believes that Level 5 autonomous vehicles, which never expect or are capable of acceding to human intervention, are the safest approach to self-driving cars, citing internal research that shows drivers are easily distracted when not actively driving, which renders them unable to resume control quickly when required. The company is preparing to spin out of Alphabet X and become a standalone business. It's not clear if these new laws could help the company find a way to monetize its self-driving technology, but it would give them and other companies more flexibility to test new business models.

This new legislation puts Michigan at the forefront of self-driving technology development. The state is already home to MCity, a 32-acre site located on the University of Michigan's campus that simulates a functional city, complete with crosswalks, buildings, and a range of road surfaces. Google and Toyota recently opened research facilities in the Ann Arbor area in order to have more access to researchers from the University.

The signed bill also creates the Michigan Council on Future Mobility within its Department of Transportation. Members of this new group will make future policy recommendations to ensure the state maintains its regulatory lead.

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