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Nevada to help driverless car industry

The state will dedicate resources through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development toward the autonomous car industry in a bid to become the nation’s leader in the testing and development of vehicles that drive themselves.

At a workshop meeting of transportation regulators and car manufacturers Tuesday, Gov. Brian Sandoval announced that within a month, a center for autonomous vehicles would be created within his economic development office.

Sandoval said dedicating state resources for those vehicles would be a first in the United States.

The office would assist companies looking to test or build their vehicles in Nevada the same way that the state now helps companies with unmanned aerial vehicles.

Steve Hill, the economic development office’s executive director, said the position would become a part of the Nevada Institute of Autonomous Systems and funded initially through the state’s Knowledge Fund with several options under study for continued funding. Advertisements are expected to be posted to recruit a candidate for the post, who will work with the Nevada Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada and the Department of Motor Vehicles along with GOED.

Sandoval’s announcement was the first of two Tuesday gatherings in which the Governor’s Office of Economic Development stepped up its profile in events tied to CES, the international consumer electronics trade show that opens Wednesday in Las Vegas.

Many of the representatives of car manufacturers attending the morning workshop are here specifically for CES. Sandoval said the workshop, organized by the Nevada Department of Transportation, brought vehicle manufacturers and regulators together to establish early ground rules in autonomous vehicle operations.

The objective is to standardize as many regulations as possible across the country on insurance and operational issues. The meeting was jointly sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

Later Tuesday, representatives of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development conducted an unprecedented session before the CES kickoff called “Technology and the ‘New Nevada.'”

Unfortunately, the weather and a competing CES keynote address put a damper on attendance.

The state, through its shareholders and sponsors, rented a ballroom at The Venetian and had 200 RSVPs, turning some people away for the two-hour presentation about the economic development office’s initiatives.

But dozens of flights to Las Vegas were delayed or canceled by bad weather and only about 75 people turned out for the presentation, which included 10-minute vignettes on robotics, gaming technology and development, Nevada’s Water Center of Excellence and a panel discussion with unmanned aerial systems companies.

Hill said the presentation was the first in which the office presented itself to a CES crowd using a format similar to presentations it makes on trade missions.

“We looked at it as a great opportunity for us to tell our story,” Hill said of the effort.

Event attendees included delegations from Sweden, Poland and Finland — countries, Hill said, that have expressed a great interest in partnering with Nevada companies because of Sandoval’s European trade mission.

“Poland actually came to us prior to the trade mission,” he said. “We’ll continue to build relationships with them through their consuls general.”

Bjorn Lyrvall, the ambassador of Sweden to the United States, was among the speakers at the presentation. He endorsed the partnership the country has built with Nevada.

Autonomous vehicles were also on the agenda with Dr. Mridul Gautam, vice president for research and innovation and a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno who was giving the presentation.

But the state’s best ambassador to the autonomous vehicle industry is Sandoval himself.

“It was my goal that Nevada needed to be on the ground floor to all the newest innovations in technology, transportation and advanced manufacturing,” Sandoval said at the public policy workshop meeting at the Golden Nugget. “The path that we now pursue is built on a foundation of a stable economy with a focus on 21st century jobs that Nevada can lead. I’m committed to generating a better future for the generations to come.”

Sandoval has been a big fan of autonomous cars for four years when he became the first state governor to ride in a self-driving vehicle.

He said when he climbed aboard a Google vehicle in Carson City, he initially tried to get into the backseat when company officials urged him to instead sit in the driver’s seat.

“We climbed out of town on Carson Hill where the speed limit gets up to 70 mph,” Sandoval told the group. “I have to tell you, my hands weren’t on the wheel and my toes were about as curled as they get. But I looked at it as an amazing glimpse of the future.”

When Sandoval got out of the car, he told the Google officials that he was surprised that they allowed him in the driver’s seat. And they responded, “We were surprised you agreed to get in the driver’s seat.”

Sandoval also rode in an autonomous Daimler Freightliner truck on Interstate 15 in May and in another vehicle in Berlin, near the Brandenburg Gate, on his European trade mission last summer. Sandoval said he was amazed as the vehicle navigated a six-lane traffic circle, spacing itself between other vehicles on the road without human intervention.

“Those of you in the room from Nevada know that I am very competitive and I always want Nevada to take a leadership role or for Nevada to be first,” Sandoval said.

“Autonomous vehicles and autonomous systems are no exception,” he said. “I am confident that the information provided today will continue the important discussion as we create the environment in which autonomous vehicles can thrive and succeed.”

Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter. Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

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