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Leading the Way

CMU hosts bipartisan event to unveil new autonomous vehicle legislation

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Shilpa Bakre
University Communications & Marketing
Ryan Scarpino
University Communications & Marketing

In a move to strengthen Pennsylvania's leadership in the autonomous vehicle industry, Sen. Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and Yassmin Gramian, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, unveiled legislation authorizing the testing and commercial deployment of highly automated vehicles (AV) today at Carnegie Mellon University's Mill 19 facility(opens in new window) at Hazelwood Green in Pittsburgh.

In his remarks at the event, CMU President Farnam Jahanian(opens in new window) emphasized that collaboration among government, academia and industry have propelled the state's autonomous vehicle industry forward, beginning when CMU Professor Red Whittaker built a small autonomous vehicle to aid in the clean up after the 1979 nuclear reactor meltdown(opens in new window) at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg.

"Since that time, research and technology has grown exponentially here in Western Pennsylvania, creating an entire industry — and thousands of great jobs," Jahanian said. "I am tremendously proud of the many CMU spin-outs or affiliated companies that are leading in this space, including Argo AI(opens in new window), Aurora, Locomation and Motional."

Transformational Impact

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"While the economic impact of AV promises to be extraordinary, it also holds remarkable potential to enhance quality of life for citizens across the nation and contribute to solving significant societal challenges." — Farnam Jahanian

Jahanian said that the global market for the autonomous vehicle industry will reach about $7 trillion dollars by 2050, with the potential to create countless jobs for workers of all education and skill levels.

"While the economic impact of AV promises to be extraordinary, it also holds remarkable potential to enhance quality of life for citizens across the nation and contribute to solving significant societal challenges," he said, adding that benefits could include improvements to traffic safety and infrastructure maintenance and reductions in carbon emissions. In addition, he said the technology's implications could extend to logistics, sustainability, medical care and expanding opportunities for independent living.

A recent study(opens in new window) on the automated vehicles industry highlighted major regional AV firms were increasingly dependent upon testing operations outside of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania to undertake fully autonomous testing. The legislation aims to close Pennsylvania's gap with states such as Texas, Florida and Arizona that have enacted measures creating a pathway to fully autonomous testing and commercial deployment.

"Carnegie Mellon is the birthplace of self-driving vehicles and is an unquestioned, undisputed global leader in this technology," Langerholc said, also citing many of its AV affiliated companies. "Today's unveiling of this legislation takes the seed planted by these companies in good faith and nourishes it. I look forward to its growth and the fruit it shall bear."

AV organizations in Pennsylvania have been operating and testing under the original policy developed in 2018 by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. That policy requires a person to be in the driver's position of the vehicle at all times. The proposed legislation is similar to approaches used in other states where AVs operate accompanied by lead and trailing vehicles with human drivers and safety control technologies.

Gramin said that Pittsburgh was not only the birthplace of the industrial revolution through its steel industry, but also the birthplace of autonomous vehicles, "connecting the old history to the history that we are going to be making in the future."

Farnam Jahanian speaks at the event

Carnegie Mellon President Farnam Jahanian speaks at the announcment.

Today's announcement at CMU's Mill 19 facility underscored that connection. Previously a site where local steel workers produced materials for infrastructure projects, Mill 19 is now a hub for advancing discoveries to revitalize manufacturing and expand economic opportunities in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. In September 2021, CMU hosted the inaugural United States-European Union Trade and Technology Council Meeting(opens in new window) at the site.

Carnegie Mellon faculty and students have played key roles in launching the field of autonomous technology including winning the Department of Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Urban Challenge in 2007 with the Boss(opens in new window) SUV. Over the years, CMU has filed at least 205 invention disclosures for AV technologies.

CMU faculty and students have also studied topics related to AV technology such as navigation algorithms(opens in new window), energy use(opens in new window), lidar(opens in new window), government policies(opens in new window) and how smarter cars can equal smarter cities(opens in new window). In addition, CMU is home to Mobility21(opens in new window), a National University Transportation Center funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which focuses on safely and efficiently improving the mobility of people and goods in the 21st century.

Along with Langerholc and Gramian, government officials in attendance included Senators Ryan Aument (R-36), Jay Costa (D-43), Wayne Fontana (D-42), Joe Pittman (R-41), Devlin Robinson (R-37); Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, andCouncilman Corey O’Connor.

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