How autonomous vehicles are driving discussions among local innovation leaders

By   – Reporter, St. Louis Business Journal

Regional business, government and education leaders convened Tuesday to participate in a town hall-style event exploring the impact autonomous vehicles could have on St. Louis and the rest of the country.

Tuesday’s event, one of the first to take place in the region focused on autonomous cars, was held at the MOTO Museum in Grand Center and co-hosted by Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), the Partnership for Transportation Innovation & Opportunity and BioSTL.

SAFE connected with bioscience industry booster BioSTL through a mutual contact, said BioSTL CEO Donn Rubin. While BioSTL has traditionally focused on growing the region’s bioscience, health care and agtech sectors, Rubin said it’s important for St. Louis to be engaged in national conversation on all types of innovation.

“At BioSTL, we’ve always thought of innovation broadly. We think a lot about St. Louis’ place in the country and St. Louis’ place in the world through the lens of innovation. We believe it’s important for St. Louis to be in the middle of these kind of discussions, be a thought leader, a convener,” he said.

Dialogue at the event touched on the implications of autonomous vehicles on issues such as roadway safety, the environment, technology, the economy and workforce development. St. Louis Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Chulick gave the event’s keynote address, titled “Preparing the Workforce for the Innovation Economy.”

Other local officials participating included Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, St. Louis Community College Chancellor Jeff Pittman and St. Louis Regional Freightway Executive Director Mary Lamie, all of whom participated in the event’s panel discussion.

SAFE is a nonpartisan organization focused on reducing America’s dependence on oil and advocates for transportation innovation including electric vehicles, natural gas trucks and autonomous vehicles. The organization in 2018 released a report that projects autonomous vehicles could provide $800 billion annually in economic and societal benefits when they are fully deployed. Robbie Diamond, president and CEO of SAFE, said Tuesday that his organization has placed a focus on starting dialogue on autonomous vehicles with key stakeholders since the release of its report on the emerging technology.