How Arizona’s Early Embrace of Automated Vehicle Technology Is Paying Off

In 2017, The New York Times labeled Arizona the place “where self-driving cars go to learn.”

With millions of test miles under their belt, today, those vehicles have graduated from development to safe deployment, placing Arizona at the forefront of automated technology.

Even George Jetson might be surprised at the self-driving taxis, autonomous delivery services, and electric and hydrogen-powered semitrucks navigating the highways and streets of the Grand Canyon State.

“Arizona stands as the closest real-world embodiment of the Jetsons’ fantastical flying cars,” said Danny Seiden, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which in May hosted a panel discussion with electric vehicle (EV) and automated vehicle (AV) leaders. “Arizona is the Kitty Hawk for autonomous vehicles.”

The “Future of Mobility” discussion hosted at ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management was moderated by Sandra Watson, the Arizona Commerce Authority’s president and CEO.

Representatives of EV manufacturers Lucid and Nikola, as well as AV industry leaders Waymo and Cruise, joined Watson and Seiden for a wide-ranging discussion on the successful collaboration among government, industry and academia that has positioned Arizona to lead mobility solutions. The conversation explored future infrastructure needs, workforce initiatives and next steps for continued success.

“Arizona represents the tip of the spear for advanced mobility innovation,” said Watson, noting a 2020 study by Rounds Consulting Group predicts industry investment will create 40,000 jobs and more than $4 billion in economic output. “When other states were putting up roadblocks, Arizona made it known that innovation was welcome here.”

In 2018, Waymo chose the Phoenix region as the first place in the U.S. to launch its fully autonomous ride-hailing service. More recently, Waymo announced it would partner with Uber to bring its autonomous driving technology to Uber’s ridesharing and delivery platform. The partnership will commence publicly this year in Phoenix across Waymo’s 180-square-mile operating territory, which Waymo describes as “ the largest fully autonomous service area in the world.”

Separately, Cruise has partnered with Walmart to launch an autonomous delivery service in Arizona.

These innovations and many more were made possible by Arizona’s early embrace of AV technologies. In 2015, Arizona became one of the first states in the nation to establish a regulatory framework for automated-vehicle testing and operations. More than 600 vehicles have been tested on state roads, with more than a dozen companies testing automated vehicles and related technology.

“Arizona has had a unique way of leapfrogging other states in developing regulations in this industry,” said Aidan Ali-Sullivan, head of state policy and government affairs at Waymo.

To formalize the state’s leadership in automated vehicle technology and pave the way for future innovations, in 2018, Arizona launched the Institute of Automated Mobility (IAM), a public-private consortium housed within the Arizona Commerce Authority.

IAM has achieved rapid success. Earlier this year, IAM was named among the first recipients of federal funding to improve transportation efficiency and safety. The $1.75-million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will help the ACA plan and prototype activities to digitize Arizona roadways for “vehicle to everything” (V2X) technology.

“Arizona has a history with semiconductors and mining and is using that for inspiration on how to handle new industries,” said Daniel Witt, director of public policy for Lucid, which manufactures EVs in Casa Grande.

Alana Langdon, previously the head of government affairs and global policy for Nikola, which builds heavy-duty zero-emissions trucks in Coolidge, said the state’s supportive environment for manufacturers and alternative fuel vehicles helps attract employers and jobs.

“(The Arizona Department of Transportation) has done a great job designing commercial corridors for alt-fuel vehicles,” she said.

The panelists agreed that continuing to grow the industry workforce is critical, along with building on apprenticeship programs with community and technical colleges.

The groundwork for the next generation of EV, AV and Advanced Air Mobility — flying cars — should be set by state and local governments and the utilities, said Carter Stern, Cruise’s director of global affairs. Then, Stern said, they should step back and let private enterprise flourish.

“When talking to a business in Singapore or Australia, and they ask us, ‘Who does AV right?’ Arizona is a state I consistently point to,” he said.

Learn more about Arizona’s advanced mobility solutions here.

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