Autonomous vehicles, high-tech jobs in rural Utah

By Kade Garner, ABC 4 Salt Lake City

UTAH (ABC4) – When you think of high-tech jobs, do you also think about Silicon Valley in California? Well, one company is breaking that mold by developing self-driving vehicles in rural Utah.

Tucked away in the mountains of northern Utah in a town called Peterboro is Autonomous Solutions, Inc.

“We try to take people out of what Mel (CEO Mel Torrie) calls dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs,” ASI Director of Engineering Brian Stewart explained to ABC4.

Stewart is one of 150 employees at ASI. Like the other employees, he works to make dangerous jobs safe by developing self-driving vehicles.

“We take our core technology and we put it into things like this,” Stewart said while pointing to a robot that looked like something NASA would have on Mars. He continued, “They’re used for military application or for commercial application.”

Over the last 20 years, ASI has automated more than 1,000 vehicles for nine different types of industries, and now has products in six continents across the world.

How do they do it? ASI Software Engineer McKord Harris broke it down in simple terms. He explained, “We use satellite positioning to tell us where the vehicle is, and then we use the electronics on the vehicle to tell it where we want it to go and make sure everything lines up.”

At the end of every project, whether it be a small robot used in policing situations or large mining equipment, there’s always a test run. During the test run, emotions are high. “You know,” Harris said. “You’re nervous. Is it going to do exactly what we’re telling it to do?”

If the test is a success, the vehicle will make its way to its final destination.

Harris recently went to visit a farmer in California who’d received an autonomous tractor. The tractor made easy work tilling up hundreds of acres of land. Harris told ABC4 it’s rewarding to help in feeding the country while also providing some relief to the farmer during a time of labor shortage.

For the engineers, it’s a challenge to keep adapting their technology to work on new vehicles. However, that’s also what makes it exciting.

“You get to work with new technology every day,” Stewart added. “You’re not doing things that have been done before. You’re working with people, you’re working with companies, you’re working with products that are changing so fast. You have to stay on top of it. It’s not slow.”

All the ASI employees who talked to ABC4 said one thing in common: they never imagined they’d find an engineering job of such high caliber in northern Utah, but they’re glad they did.

Along with helping creating safer work environments, ASI has a goal to give back $1 billion for providing STEM education and entrepreneur opportunities for less fortunate children.