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New automated mobility institute in Arizona focuses on safety

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced on Oct. 11 the creation of the Institute for Automated Mobility to research self-driving vehicles.

Ducey signed an executive order for a statewide partnership to update laws and develop safety standards for automated vehicles.

The partnership includes Intel, the Arizona Department of Transportation, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

"What we're trying to do with this institute is ... companies are starting to develop their products and want them to be tested and make sure they're all aligned with safety standards," Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, the institute's adviser for science and technology, told S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The institute is working with the Intel Corp.-owned Mobileye's collision-avoidance software to make it available on an open platform so other developers can incorporate it into their technology, said Panchanathan, who is also executive vice president and chief research and innovation officer at Arizona State's Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.

"We're working with how we might have a consortium of companies interested in automated mobility and automated vehicle technologies to work on open safety data and also best practices that can be shared and also safety rating certification," he said.

The institute will look at what needs to be changed regarding vehicle safety standards and how those changes will be implemented.

"There are no preconceived notions here," Panchanathan said. "What we know is this needs work. That's what the institute is set up for — to work on those things."

Panchanathan said this institute gets like-minded companies working together to find solutions that impact all of them.

The Commerce Authority committed $1.5 million to the institute, and the Transportation Department is investing $1 million for a traffic incident management center, Susan Marie, the Commerce Authority's executive vice president of strategy, told S&P Global Market Intelligence.

"However, private-sector companies such as Waymo are able to join the institute as partners," she said.

The center will focus on first-responders and law enforcement integrating with automated-vehicle technology.

"It's the first of its kind in the U.S.," Panchanathan said. "It will provide even better and faster response and safe response to incidents and situations that need immediate attention."

There are also plans for safety test tracks throughout the state.

"What we're envisioning is that we'll have a variety of test tracks that might be located in different parts of Arizona for different purposes," Panchanathan said.

These tracks could have intersections, signage and traffic signals, he said.

The institute will decide which purposes are most urgent and what they will entail.

"What are companies interested in testing?" he said. "What's possible?"

There will also be simulated testing, Panchanathan said.

"It doesn't have to be all necessarily built in … concrete and pavement," he said.

The institute aims to provide partner companies with the expertise and infrastructure they need to further develop self-driving vehicle technologies.

"We need to understand what the industry needs and build pilot projects around those," Panchanathan said.

The institute was announced ahead of Waymo's planned launch of a public, self-driving ride-hailing service in the Phoenix area later this year.

The Alphabet Inc. company is expanding its operations to the public after more than 400 people tested the service in an early-rider program that began in April 2017, according to Waymo.

Panchanathan said one of the reasons the institute was announced in an executive order was to make sure companies are paying attention and want to engage with and benefit from the institute.

Waymo declined to comment on the public launch and did not respond to a request for comment on the new institute.