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Contra Costa County’s Burgeoning Autonomous Vehicle Presence – May, 2024

Updated: Jul 8

Innovation. A word that feels like it should have an exclamation mark after it. It’s a great word that portends something life changing is about to occur. That’s how it felt this week when I attended the #Redefining Mobility Summit organized by Contra Costa Transportation Authority. Admittedly at the start of the summit, I only had a cursory understanding, and a lot of misgivings, about autonomous transportation. However, by the end of the day, I was a fan. At our last meeting, DVTI had the opportunity to hear Mariah Ray of Glydways talk about how their company will be an integral part of easing the gridlock on Highway 4 with their AV system.  At the summit, that message was reinforced as Glydways CEO, Gokul Hemmady, Antioch Mayor and chair of Tri Delta Transit Lamar Hernandez-Thorpe and CCTA Director Tim Haile unveiled Glydways’ new, larger autonomous car. It is comfortable, spacious, adaptable – what’s not to love!

At the summit we also heard from Alex Poirot of Beep, Inc. (such a great name!) share how they are working with Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) to develop a workforce pipeline program to ensure students have the necessary skills to work in the autonomous transportation industry. Additionally, Beep is showcasing their capabilities at Bishop Ranch with Presto, as well as at the Palo Alto VA where they shuttle veterans around that facility. As they expand here in Contra Costa County, hopefully they will look at creating a career development program with the Contra Costa Community College District, like what Diablo Valley College has in their partnership with Tesla. It would be a win-win for everyone.

CCTA did a good job of bringing speakers from a wide breadth of players in the AV world, to address the ripple effect of this innovative industry. Many of the issues discussed were ones I had never considered. In my mind, autonomous vehicles somehow operated in a vacuum; however, the speakers addressed a myriad of issues being faced by the autonomous transportation industry. The hurdles consistently mentioned were around safety, consumer acceptance and developing the workforce to support the AV industry. Understandably, the public is leery of driverless vehicles, especially since the only stories making headlines are the mishaps and malfunctions. The public expects, and forgives, human errors; however, they expect absolute perfection from their machines. Tim Haile, Executive Director of CCTA, opened the summit with a great story about how people were initially very apprehensive about elevators running without an operator; so much so that the elevator industry stationed “operators” in elevators to press the buttons and convey confidence to the riders. So, I predict that one day at a mobility summit in the future, autonomous vehicles’ origins and acceptance will be an amusing anecdote for the next generation of mobility innovations.

Speaking of the future, next year will be the 10th Redefining Mobility Summit. It will be interesting to see what 2024 in review looks like. One area I will be interested to hear about is that of foreign competition. Who is winning and who is losing?

I also hope to hear from Autonomous Air Taxi companies such as Wisk, Joby Aviation, or Archer Aviation unveiling their plans to establish a presence here in Contra Costa County. CCTA has demonstrated that we have the vision, the land and the resources to support their innovation. Who will be first to take advantage of it?

- Carol Prell

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