Utah Pushes to Become Autonomous-Driving Haven

Utah may soon become a hotbed for autonomous-driving technology.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, a new bill making its way through the state legislature may legalize the use of self-driving cars on public roads. That bill, named HB371, will also impose liability and insurance rules for five different “levels” of autonomous vehicles (i.e., vehicles categorized as “Level 2,” with lane assist and smart braking, would align to different guidelines than “Level 5” cars, which are totally autonomous).

Local lawmakers are interested in autonomous vehicles not only because of the potential safety benefits; they also think there’s an economic upside. “There is a great opportunity because of Utah’s tech center… to really take a lead in this area,” Representative Robert Spendlove told the newspaper. However, the bill may not become a law before mid-2019.

(Utah also finds itself in a bit of a race with neighboring California, where regulators with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles just lifted the requirement that autonomous vehicles have a human being at the wheel at all times. That “unshackling” of self-driving vehicles will go into effect in the state at the beginning of April.)

Over the past few years, firms such as Waymo (a Google subsidiary) and Tesla have managed to generate a considerable amount of hype around the prospect of self-driving cars. The technology has world-altering potential: imagine 18-wheelers and taxis driving 24 hours a day without pause, or people with disabilities able to navigate effortlessly from points A to B. In theory, the number of auto fatalities would decrease even further, as sophisticated algorithms took control from more fallible humans.

But who knows when hardware and software will become sophisticated enough for people to collectively cede control of driving? In the meantime, those tech pros interested in working with autonomous driving technologies should explore machine learning, artificial intelligence (A.I.), and computer vision—all vital to coding self-driving platforms. Courses such as Udacity’s self-driving car program can help tie all that knowledge together.

Although Silicon Valley, New York City, and other “major” tech towns attract a lot of buzz, Salt Lake City has hosted a burgeoning tech community in recent years. Earlier this year, Wallethub ranked Salt Lake City seventh among the best U.S. cities for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) jobs, and the city has taken pains to reposition itself as a “youthful” tech hub. Maybe the next great autonomous-driving startup will decide to call Utah home.

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