Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill Monday making self-driving cars that have the proper insurance and registration legal on Georgia roads.
Harry Lightsey, General Motor’s executive director of public policy on emerging technologies, said GM already has 50 cars it’s testing in three cities: San Francisco, Scottsdale, Ariz. and Detroit.
“By adopting this legislation, the state of Georgia has put itself in the running and at the forefront as a possibility I think for us or for any other company that wants to develop and deploy self-driving technology,” Lightsey said.
GM has nearly 1,100 employees at its IT innovation center in Roswell. Lightsey said some of them are focused on analyzing data collected by its self-driving fleet.
Currently most states require drivers behind the wheel, but passing Senate Bill 219 adds Georgia to the handful of states where companies can test and deploy driverless cars.
“There really hasn’t been a number of states that have laws to date, so Georgia’s really at the forefront,” Lightsey said. “In the long term, self-driving vehicles have the potential to have tremendous impact on Georgia in terms of public safety, reduction of congestion and many other aspects of quality of life.”
The first order of business for GM, if it decides to launch in Georgia, would be to use 3-D mapping of a region’s streets so that self-driving cars can operate on them.
“Once it’s mapped, it gets constantly updated. As the cars go through the streets, they recognize different features,” Lightsey said. “For example, if there’s construction on the roads, that gets updated so all the cars in the fleet are aware of that.”
The original version of the bill GM lobbied for restricted testing to car manufacturers and faced strong opposition from the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, which represents Waymo, Lyft, Uber, Ford and Volvo Cars.
“We welcome Georgia’s rejection of the anti-competitive language originally proposed in the SAVE Act, and we stand ready to continue working with state policymakers on the right policy solutions to test and deploy self-driving vehicles safely and swiftly,” the coalition’s general counsel David Strickland said.
If the company decides to come to Georgia, Lightsey said it could take just a few months to set up, but a few years before GM’s self-driving cars would be operating on the roads.
Lightsey said GM’s plan is to develop and launch a ride-hailing service in large cities like Atlanta, which people could access through a mobile app.
He doesn’t think a self-driving ride sharing fleet hurts GM’s core business, but because the technology inside the cars now costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, he estimates it could take 10 years before dealerships offer self-driving cars in their showrooms.