Group launched to help Nevada thrive in development of autonomous cars

AP Photo/Sandra Chereb

Gov. Brian Sandoval takes a spin in a driverless car Wednesday, July 20, 2011, in Carson City. Sandoval described the experience as “amazing”; he took the test run with a Google engineer and DMV Director Bruce Breslow. They started their trip at the DMV offices in Carson City and went north to Washoe Valley, where they turned around.

An economic development organization Tuesday approved the formation of the Center for Advanced Mobility, part of a state initiative to place Nevada on the cutting edge of automobile technology at a time when the industry is quickly pushing to develop autonomous vehicles.

The center will fall under the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, a nonprofit group that currently coordinates with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to oversee the state’s designation as a federal drone test site and help develop the state's unmanned aerial industry.

Initial funding for the project will come from GOED. According to a draft budget approved at the Institute for Autonomous Systems' board meeting Tuesday, the center is expected to spend $102,800 from March to June, the end of the state’s fiscal year. Over time, officials expect a portion of revenue to come from federal grants. Last month, the Obama administration proposed $4 billion in its 2017 budget for automated vehicle research and sought to work with state officials.

The purpose of the center will be to help facilitate for companies — from automobile suppliers to manufacturers — testing, relocation to the state and opportunities for research and development.

Tom Wilczek, a GOED industry specialist whose portfolio includes the drone industry, called the new center “an excellent opportunity” to grow the Institute for Autonomous Systems. The newly formed center will also partner with higher-education institutions in the state, including UNLV.

Wilczek hopes to begin the process of hiring a director this week. Gov. Brian Sandoval announced the center’s formation during CES in January. In recent months, state economic development officials have designated advanced mobility as one of the areas where Nevada could be a leader.

Between Tesla’s battery factory in the North and Faraday Future’s planned manufacturing plant in the South, state officials see the state as well-positioned to play a role in advanced electric vehicle manufacturing. Nevada was also the first state to allow road-testing for autonomous vehicles. Google, Kia Motors and German manufacturer Daimler AG all have permits to do some form of road-testing here. The center might help facilitate advanced and off-road testing.

After approving the new center, the Institute for Autonomous Systems' board presented its quarterly report for the end of 2015. During the fourth quarter, the organization helped facilitate more than 60 unmanned aerial flights, a 600 percent increase from the previous quarter.

In 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration designated Nevada one of six drone test sites.