General Motors CEO Mary Barra on Thursday said the automaker will immediately begin testing self-driving vehicles on public roads in Michigan just days after Gov. Rick Snyder signed a package of bills legalizing the operation of autonomous vehicles in the hope of restoring the state’s image as an center of automotive innovation.
Barra also announced Thursday that the Orion Township assembly plant, the same factory that produces the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, will produce the next generation of autonomous test vehicles beginning early next year. The test vehicles will be equipped with light-sensitive radar known as LIDAR, cameras, sensors and other hardware designed to ensure system safety, according to GM.
“We expect GM will become the first high-volume auto manufacturer to build fully autonomous vehicles in a mass production assembly plant,” Barra said during a press conference that was livestreamed on Facebook.
GM is already testing its autonomous vehicles at its Technical Center campus in Warren, Mich as well as on public roads in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz. The company has more than 40 autonomous vehicles testing in those two cities. With the passage of the SAVE Act legislation last week, GM plans to expands it testing to public roads in metro Detroit. The metro area will become GM’s main location for development of autonomous technology in winter climates.
The four bills signed by Gov. Snyder establish regulations for the testing, use, and eventual sale of autonomous vehicle technology and are meant to more clearly define how self-driving vehicles can be legally used on public roadways. The new laws allow testing of vehicles without steering wheels, pedals, or needed human control—an important allowance that aims to propel Michigan ahead of California, a hotbed of driverless car development.
General Motors has been more public and aggressive with its autonomous car ambitions in the past 18 months. The automaker announced a number of new initiatives in 2016 that highlight its interest in self-driving cars and unconventional transportation options popularized by a new wave of startups, including a partnership and $500 million investment in ride-hailing startup Lyft, the creation of an engineering team dedicated to autonomous driving, and its purchase of Cruise Automation.