By DREW HOWARD
Witnessing driverless vehicles on the roads of Rochester Hills isn’t a matter of “if” but “when,” according to Mayor Bryan K. Barnett.
In an effort to prepare for that eventual day, Barnett recently hosted a teleconference with mayors from across the country and representatives from Ford Motor Company to discuss the new technology and its potential impact on communities.
Barnett said the purpose of the call was threefold: to review current legislation relative to autonomous vehicles, to hear from mayoral colleagues who have pilot programs in their communities, and to talk about what cities can do to prepare to be pilot communities for such new technology.
“It’s going to make a huge impact in every part of our society,” Barnett said. “Rochester Hills is not shying away from the conversation – we want to position ourselves as leaders.”
Notable teleconference participants included Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Columbus, Ohio Mayor Andrew Ginther, and Andrew Woelfling, director of Smart Mobility at Ford Motor Company.
On the call, Peduto shared some insight into how autonomous vehicles have already started to change the way people travel in Pittsburgh.
“You’ve probably already heard that Pittsburgh has autonomous vehicles on the street that are part of our Uber fleet,” Peduto said on the call. “If you’re in the area between the rivers of the city and you’re ordering an Uber there’s a chance that the car will pick you up is completely autonomous.”
Ginther noted plans in Columbus to deploy six autonomous vehicles in a mixed traffic environment with other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. He stressed that this opportunity to introduce autonomous vehicle technology should not be taken lightly.
“This is all about mobility,” he said on the call. “Mobility is going to be the great equalizer of the 21st Century. We really need to make sure that we have a multimodal approach to this so that it will work in communities like Columbus or communities from around the country.”
Barnett addressed developments in Congress regarding federal legislation that would establish rules to deployment and manufacturing of autonomous vehicles throughout the U.S., asking those on the call how local leadership can shape guidelines for deployment in the future.
Woelfling explained over the call that local input would be still be taken into consideration as states and localities are free to regulate the areas they’ve traditionally regulated.
Barnett is taking this opportunity to position Rochester Hills as a leader for the new technology.
“Cities need to talk about their infrastructure, how to handle big data, parking meters, and how the city will change,” he told the Gazette. “There’s nothing structural that Rochester Hills needs to do – that’s not where we’re at. We want to the be the leader of this technology so when big companies want to test their tech, they know Rochester Hills has been a part of this discussion and want to start their first project here.”
A short video outlining the teleconference titled “Autonomous Vehicles” can be found online on the “RochesterHillsTV” YouTube channel.