Why the East Valley is Primed for Self-driving Vehicles

Original Article Via Phoenix Business Journal

The East Valley always has been a place for automotive innovation.

Hot weather and wide open spaces drove General Motors to the area in 1953 when the automobile giant opened its Desert Proving Ground in Mesa. For 56 years, new prototypes and automotive systems were tested on a track hidden behind barbed wire and tall earthen berms.

More recently, an equally welcoming climate driven by economic development and a talent-rich workforce sparked GM’s interest again as it established its Information Technology Innovation Center – one of just four in the nation – in Chandler.

Now, GM, with chip giant Intel Corp., Waymo (formerly the Google Self-Driving Car Project) and other forward-thinking businesses are establishing a hub for self-driving vehicles — each laser-focused on research and testing to positively impact drivers worldwide.

That is important, because according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 962 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes last year in Arizona alone, a 7.2 percent increase since 2015. The vast majority of accidents are attributed to human error.

High-tech solutions to this safety problem are moving forward on local streets with a fleet of 600 minivans operating on self-driving technology. A deal between Waymo and ride-hailing company Lyft enables consumers to ride in vehicles with autonomous car sensors. Waymo also has a facility in Chandler where vehicles are maintained and data is analyzed.

Microchip Technology, NXP, Maxim Integrated, Garmin and Rogers Corp., along with dozens of other firms in the auto-tech supply chain, are joining the region in an environment so charged during the past 18 months that the self-driving vehicles cluster already is at critical mass.

This momentum is due, in part, to the welcoming tone of local leaders — from Gov. Doug Ducey to local city councils and transportation committee members who wholeheartedly embrace the concept of self-driving cars. In fact, Arizona is one of five states with governors who have issued orders supporting development of autonomous vehicles.

The region also offers auto tech companies a friendly regulatory and tax environment by being located in a U.S. Foreign Trade Zone, enabling them to enhance their cost-competitiveness through tax incentives.

And the PHX East Valley national branding initiative of East Valley Partnership, is promoting the region as ia magnet for self-driving vehicles because of its top-notch talent.

In Chandler, an estimated 25,000 people work in advanced manufacturing or software development, and other East Valley cities boast a growing technology workforce, too. As important is access to additional training through Arizona State University and the East Valley Institute of Technology, among other schools.

Knowing all this, it is no wonder why the East Valley is driving the next generation of transportation in Arizona, across the nation and throughout the world. Unlike other areas that are testing self-driving vehicles, in our region, there are very few potholes.