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Ahead of the Curve Auto Supplier Blog

January 19, 2015

Autonomous vehicles to bring a "revolution" to the auto industry

The North American International Auto Show, Detroit’s answer to the Super Bowl, Academy Awards and Stanley Cup finals all in one, never fails to amaze with its wealth of new models and new concepts to keep America “King of the Road.”

This year’s show was no exception.

The biggest news to come out of the show seems to be the tremendous amount of interest and development work in the  autonomous vehicle arena. Everyone at the show was talking about the technology and a number of companies, with Google apparently forging into the lead, are spending millions of dollars to make autonomous vehicles the next big thing in vehicular transportation. Autonomous vehicles were the big buzz at both the auto show and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a week earlier.

“Connected and automated vehicle technology will usher in a revolution in the mobility of people and goods comparable to that sparked by the introduction of the automobile a century ago,” said Peter Sweatman, director of the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transportation Center, a 32-acre “mini-city” created specifically to test these new technologies.

But there’s more to the advancement of autonomous vehicles than just the technology itself.  From Warner Norcross’ point of view, the key issues are the legal ones that will inevitably come with the vehicles. Today there are just four states with legislation permitting the vehicles to operate, even in test situations – Nevada, Florida, California and, of course, Michigan. Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law in 2013 allowing testing of autonomous vehicles on state roads but requiring that a human be in the driver’s seat at all times.

While autonomous vehicles are projected by some to result in fewer collisions, higher speed limits, reduced insurance and fuel costs, reduced driver fatigue, and reduced need for directional signage (the vehicles will always know where they’re going and the best way to get there), there are at least as many potential problems that need to be recognized and overcome before these vehicles can become a mass market reality. Questions about product liability, NHTSA requirements, federal and state regulations, intellectual property ownership and more will keep automakers, technology companies and automotive suppliers busy for years.

Autonomous vehicles have been the stuff of science fiction movies for years. Remember Stephen King’s horror film, Christine, where an autonomous car was the title character? That was 30 years ago. Then there was Batman’s partially autonomous Batmobile a decade later. How about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Johnny Cabs’ in Total Recall, or the autonomous vehicle that starred with him in The 6th Day? Well, get ready, because they’re about to drive off the screen and onto the nation’s highways in a big way. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers has suggested that up to 75% of all vehicles will be autonomous by 2040.

Warner Norcross’ cross disciplinary team of intellectual property, automotive and regulatory lawyers are creating legal solutions to the issues and questions autonomous vehicles raise. Plus, with Tom Manganello, co-founder and Chairman of MICHauto leading our automotive practice team, we possess deep insights and strong connections to the major innovators in the autonomous vehicles market. Our autonomous vehicle team is taking a very deep dive into the brave new world of autonomous vehicles and will present a seminar this June for the automotive industry where we will tackle the issues. It’s pretty exciting.

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