Upstate Business Journal

Connecticut nonprofit willing to fund self-driving vehicle pilot in Greenville

The Global Autonomous Vehicle Partnership aims to hasten the adoption of computer-driven, or autonomous, vehicles, believing they will reduce traffic accidents and pollution and make the economy more efficient and productive.

May 10, 2017

by Rudolph Bell

A nonprofit organization from Connecticut has agreed to contribute up to $2 million toward a demonstration project that would put self-driving vehicles on the streets of Greenville, provided local boosters can raise an equivalent amount.

The Global Autonomous Vehicle Partnership aims to hasten the adoption of computer-driven, or autonomous, vehicles, believing they will reduce traffic accidents and pollution and make the economy more efficient and productive, according to its website.

The group was founded last year by Scott Case, former chief technology officer for Priceline.com, the Internet travel service. Among its activities is supporting cities that are willing to be early adopters of autonomous vehicle technology.

The $2 million commitment for matching funds came in a May 3 letter from Art Shulman, executive director of the Global Autonomous Vehicle Partnership, to Doug Webster, a commercial real estate broker who is part of a local group hoping to make Greenville a testbed for — and ultimately center of — transportation technology.

Working with Webster on the idea as volunteers are Greenville County Councilman Fred Payne, City Councilman George Fletcher, industrial marketer Lee Stogner, and Fred Cartwright, executive director of the International Center for Automotive Research, the Clemson University research park in Greenville.

Webster, Payne, and Stogner said they aim to deploy self-driving vehicles on public streets in several places around Greenville, starting this year at ICAR.

They’re also eyeing downtown, Verdae, and the West Greenville neighborhood around Legacy Charter School as sites for autonomous vehicle deployment.

They initially envision battery-powered shuttles capable of carrying between four and eight passengers that could be summoned on demand through smartphone apps.

Each self-driving vehicle, they say, will need an on-board “operator” to satisfy a South Carolina law requiring a licensed driver be in every vehicle riding on public streets.

Webster, Payne, and Stogner said they were introduced to the Global Autonomous Vehicle Partnership by Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at the University of South Carolina’s law school and an expert on law relating to self-driving vehicles.

They recently formed a nonprofit organization called Carolinas Alliance 4 Innovation that they hope can organize numerous projects related to transportation technology. They say their long-term goal is to bring the autonomous vehicle industry to Greenville.

“We want to create jobs, not just take somebody’s money,” said Stogner, who chairs several committees for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and was instrumental in bringing an IEEE conference on electric vehicles to Greenville five years ago.

Webster, Payne, and Stogner said they’ve worked with Duke Energy on a Greenville County application to Electrify America, a Volkswagen initiative that provides funding for electric vehicle charging stations and electric vehicle education centers.

They said they’re talking to foundations and corporations, but not local or state government, in an effort to raise $2 million to match the $2 million in matching funds offered by the Global Autonomous Vehicle Partnership.

If they can raise $2 million locally, they’ll start contacting vehicle providers and put together a package to deploy self-driving technology in Greenville.

Webster, Payne and Stogner said the Carolina Alliance 4 Innovation hasn’t signed any contracts and isn’t committed to any particular vehicle maker or brand.

They said they’re willing to talk with any interested company — from large automakers such as BMW and General Motors to small startups such as EasyMile, a French firm that markets self-driving shuttles.

“In fact we want to deploy different types of vehicles because ultimately they have to work together,” Payne said.

Webster, Payne, and Stogner said a small U.S. company involved in self-driving vehicles, Robotic Research, is scheduled to make an exploratory visit to Greenville on Monday.

The engineering firm and defense contractor from Gaithersburg, Md., specializes in unmanned vehicles, according to its website.

Its previous work includes development of a self-driving shuttle service for wounded soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, according to an article in the Fayetteville Observer.

Webster, Payne, and Stogner also said they’d be happy to work with Proterra, a manufacturer of battery-powered buses with a factory in Greenville.

Proterra earlier this month announced an autonomous vehicle pilot program in Nevada.

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