Home to many of the country’s leading automakers, Michigan aims to pull ahead of California and other states as a place that’s friendly to the autonomous driving movement. The newly enacted laws come as traditional automakers fight to keep pace with the Silicon Valley players who have been at the forefront of self-driving technology, including Google, Tesla and Uber.
The laws permit ride-sharing services to use fully automated cars without human drivers and also allow the Michigan public to purchase self-driving vehicles when they go on the market, the Detroit News reported.
The winter months allow automakers to test their self-driving technology in conditions that are difficult even for human motorists.
Snow can cause the roadway to become slick and obscure lane markers and road signs, presenting a challenge for the cameras, lasers and other sensors self-driving cars rely on. They have to learn to distinguish the snow from other objects in their view, and to accurately navigate roadways that may look different than in warmer seasons.
What’s more, the self-driving cars will also contend with human drivers in other vehicles, whose movements could be less predictable in difficult road conditions.
Uber engineers told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review earlier this month that they were eager to see how their cars hold up in the city’s winter weather. The ride-hailing service has been testing a self-driving fleet there since September of this year.
GM is already testing 40 autonomous electric vehicles on the road in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz.
The self-driving Chevy Bolts that GM uses to test the technology, which come equipped with lasers, cameras and other sensors, will be produced at an assembly plant in Lake Orion, Mich.
“We expect GM will become the first high-volume auto manufacturer to build fully autonomous vehicles in a mass-production assembly plant,” GM chief executive Mary Barra said.
Barra made the announcement Thursday afternoon in an address streamed live on the GM Facebook page.
“This is an incredibly exciting time for the auto industry,” she said. “I think we’re in the midst of seeing more change now than we have seen in the last 50 years.”
The GM announcement was the latest in a string of self-driving vehicle news this week.
Google announced Tuesday that its self-driving car project would be spun off into a stand-alone company called Waymo. On Wednesday, Uber said it would begin a self-driving, ride-hailing service in San Francisco, but California regulators ordered the company to stop the program because the company did not obtain the proper permits.
Read more from The Washington Post’s Innovations section.