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County seeks role as vehicle testing site

A July 24 vote by the Fayette County Commission asked state lawmakers to consider Fayette as a test site for research, development and manned testing of autonomous vehicle technology.

The resolution was intended to request legislative support that would serve to encourage related technology companies to consolidate their efforts in Fayette County, establishing the county as an epicenter for the creation of state and federal regulations and industry standards.

Chairman Steve Brown said using Fayette County as a pilot site would enable a real-life research laboratory to not only enhance the technology, but to also simultaneously develop the proper statutory framework to properly introduce the new transportation paradigm in the marketplace.

For its part, Peachtree City has opted out of the proposal. An Aug. 4 letter from Mayor Vanessa Fleisch, Councilwoman Kim Learnard, Councilman Mike King and Councilman Terry Ernst said the city might not be the best location for the autonomous vehicle effort.

“Our abundance of golf carts, compounded by the multi-use path system and its mid-block street crossings of our streets, may pose additional challenges that could hinder development for more traditional communities. Further, we cannot in good conscience expose our residents to unproven technology that could pose a hazard to pedestrians, cyclists and golf cart drivers,” the letter stated.

McKinsey’s Global Institute has stated autonomous vehicles will be one of the top 12 “disruptive technologies.”

“Fayette County makes an excellent pilot site because of low traffic congestion, good road maintenance, variable driving conditions, a well-educated workforce, proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for federal transportation officials and technology manufacturers as well as proximity to research institutions like Georgia Tech,” said Brown.

If supported and approved by the Ga. General Assembly, Brown said Fayette would become Georgia’s first pilot site for testing autonomous vehicles in live traffic conditions.

The proposal calls for manufacturers and the state and federal governments to combine forces in Fayette County on product design, manned testing and an in-depth study on the creation of a governmental policy to usher in the new technology on the American road network.

“We have had automatic pilot for aircraft for a long time, so I knew we would eventually get to cars and other road vehicles,” said Brown. “Google was the first to take existing technology, meld it into one system and actually test the vehicles on highways, logging hundreds of thousands of miles in California.”

Brown maintains that autonomous road vehicles will be a multi-billion-dollar industry.

“The regulatory debacle we have experienced with unmanned drones is the perfect example of what we must avoid with autonomous road vehicles, and letting product development get well beyond the regulatory process is a really bad idea,” said Brown. “Autonomous cars and trucks are projected to create greater fuel efficiency, dramatically increase safety and significantly increase road capacity. The potential of autonomous vehicles to resolve many of metropolitan Atlanta’s traffic congestion problems at a significantly lower cost than other less-used alternatives like mass transit is enormous.”

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