Ontario, Michigan Partner to Explore Transportation Technologies

By Eleanor Lamb, Transport Topics News

Government leaders in Ontario and Michigan have partnered to advance transportation and mobility technologies in a cross-border testing setting.

Officials from both governments — represented by Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network, the Ministry of Transportation, the Michigan Department of Transportation and Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification — signed a memorandum of understanding to explore the implementation of a cross-border testing environment to support the adoption of transportation technologies.

The goals of the partnership include identifying the potential economic, social and environmental benefits of increased collaboration between Ontario and Michigan with regard to automotive and transportation technologies. The effort will consider the needs of commercial and passenger vehicles.

“This collaboration with Ontario is an acknowledgment of the importance of cross-border movement of goods and people as we work to build a stronger economy through safer, more equitable and environmentally conscious transportation here in Michigan,” said Trevor Pawl, chief mobility officer at Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification. “Working together with our partners in Ontario, we can set the groundwork and testbed for cross-border transportation solutions that improve international crossing throughout the United States and Canada.”

Another goal is to identify challenges for people and goods pertaining to specific types of border crossing (such as land, air and water) and determine how transportation technologies could offer solutions. The partners will explore associated regulatory and policy considerations and develop a road map for implementation, including steps to establish cross-border pilots for certain technologies.

Michigan and Ontario share a few vital crossing points, including the Windsor-Detroit Gateway, the Blue Water Bridge linking Port Huron, Mich., and Sarnia, Ontario, and the International Bridge connecting the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Ontario and Michigan also share a closely integrated automotive supply chain, as parts cross the border multiple times before vehicles roll off assembly lines as finished products. According to the government partners, Ontario and Michigan are responsible for about 22% of North America’s automotive output. Additionally, many companies operate on both sides of the border, allowing them to share engineering expertise.

Both jurisdictions have placed an emphasis on pioneering connected and autonomous vehicle technologies. Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network links the province’s automotive and technology sectors, post-secondary institutions and talent to support business and create jobs. Michigan is home to about 600 miles of roadway equipped for connected vehicle testing, and many of the state’s automotive suppliers conduct automated vehicle testing. In 2017, the two jurisdictions worked together on a cross-border automated vehicle test drive.

“This collaboration illustrates the combined strengths of Ontario and Michigan as innovation partners at the leading edge of electric, connected, autonomous and mobility technologies,” said Victor Fedeli, minister of economic development, job creation and trade for Ontario. “This forward-looking approach is essential to ensure our region remains at the forefront of a global industry that is fiercely competitive and continually subject to the forces of technology disruption.”

The first action set forth in the memorandum of understanding is a joint request for proposals, which currently is underway to study the economic potential of expanded border capacity and the benefits that can be achieved by using smart mobility solutions at international border crossings. Michigan DOT spokesman Michael Frezell described the RFP as a “broad-brush approach” to focus on commercial and passenger transportation. Proposal submissions are due Sept. 13.

Nuro is building a factory and test track in Nevada for its autonomous delivery robots

By Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge

Nuro, the autonomous delivery startup founded by two ex-Google engineers, announced a dramatic expansion of its physical footprint. The company said it will spend $40 million on the construction of a manufacturing facility and test track for its fleet of self-driving robot vehicles. Both facilities will be located in Southern Nevada, which in recent years has become a hotbed for manufacturing and testing for the future of transportation.

Nuro, which is valued at $5 billion, was founded in 2016 by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, two veterans of the Google self-driving car project that would go on to become Waymo. It is one of the few companies to be operating fully driverless vehicles — that is, vehicles without safety drivers behind the wheel — on public roads today. Its R2 vehicle is about half as wide as a compact sedan, shorter than most cars, and there’s no room inside for human passengers or drivers.

The R2 is an updated version of Nuro’s original R1 prototype, with around 50 percent more capacity (which translates into about 18 more grocery bags). The company plans on producing its third-generation vehicle at its Nevada facility once it is fully operational in 2022.

The new 125,000-square-foot factory will have the capacity to build “tens of thousands of delivery vehicles,” Nuro says. The vehicle’s powertrain, which includes the electric motor and battery, will be made in the US by BYD, a Chinese company that is one of the largest manufacturers of electric vehicles in the world. Nuro says it will develop all the autonomous software and digital infrastructure “from United States-based servers to ensure safety and privacy.”

Nuro says its $40 million investment will translate into $2.2 billion of “economic impact” for Nevada within 10 years and will result in the creation of 250 jobs. In April, the Reno Gazette Journal reported that Nuro will receive $170,519 in tax abatements over 10 years from Clark County. In exchange for the tax break, the company will create about 60 jobs within five years at an average wage of $28.80 per hour, the paper reported. The company also applied last September to receive an estimated $500,000 in tax abatements over a 10-year period from the Nevada Governor’s Economic Development Board, a spokesperson said.

Once the company’s manufacturing facility is up and running, Nuro will need a closed course to test and validate its vehicles safely. (As an example, Waymo uses a former Air Force base in central California which it originally leased in 2012.) Nuro said it is “taking over” 74 acres of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to build a “world-class, closed-course testing facility that will allow sophisticated development and validation of its autonomous on-road vehicles.”

According to a spokesperson, Nuro will takeover the entire speedway for its testing facility. The race track was closed in November 2020 for COVID restrictions but has since been reopened for events. The South Point 400 race is currently scheduled for September 24th-26th.

The test track is also expected to be operational by 2022, at which point Nuro plans on putting its driverless robots through a battery of tests, including “avoiding pedestrians and pets to giving bicycles space on shared roadways, as well as environmental tests and vehicle systems validation.”

“This is a significant moment for Nuro,” said Zhu, Nuro’s co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “Building on our tremendous momentum—including strategic partnerships with industry leaders such as Domino’s, Kroger, and FedEx and operations in three states—we are now able to invest in the infrastructure to build tens of thousands of robots.”

The company is relatively unknown compared to its rivals in the autonomous vehicle space, mostly because of its focus on delivery and not ferrying human passengers in robotaxis. Still, Nuro has made incredible progress on the regulatory front, becoming the first company to receive a special exemption from certain federal safety requirements and recently getting the green light to charge money for its deliveries in California.