Kia Motors has joined a growing list of companies that are using Nevada as testbed for self-driving car technology. The Korean automaker announced Monday that it was granted a license by the state of Nevada to test its autonomous driving technologies on public roads.
Kia and Hyundai Motor Group, which holds a one-third stake in the company, announced plans in November to invest $2 billion by 2018 to develop new advanced driver assistance system technologies and hire more engineers to pursue its self-driving car ambitions. Kia plans to introduce a range of partially-autonomous driving technologies to its model lineup, including eco-friendly vehicles by 2020, and is aiming to bring its first fully-autonomous car to market by 2030.
California, and particularly Silicon Valley, is considered the primary hub of autonomous vehicle technology. However, Nevada’s less stringent regulations and willingness to accommodate businesses has helped it become an attractive place to test those technologies. In 2011, Nevada became the first state to pass legislation to let companies operate autonomous vehicles on public roads, largely due to Google’s lobbying efforts there. It’s now one of just four states, plus Washington, D.C., that has laws regulating autonomous vehicle operations.
Google (GOOG) was the first company to receive a permit in Nevada, followed by Audi. In May, Nevada regulators granted Daimler Trucks North America the first license for an autonomous commercial truck to operate on a U.S. public highway.
Most major automakers as well as Google are working on autonomous driving technologies of varying degrees. For instance, Toyota, which has been testing autonomous technology for highway driving, aims to make the car a partner, or teammate—not replace the driver completely.
Meanwhile, Google is pursuing fully autonomous vehicles after wrestling with the challenge of how to keep drivers engaged enough that they can take control of driving as needed. Google developed a fully autonomous prototype in June that doesn’t have pedals or a steering wheel, but only sensors and software. It hopes to commercialize its technology by 2020. The company’s tests, however, still include Lexus RX450h SUVs equipped with autonomous software.
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