Making Orlando a Center For Autonomous Vehicle Research And Development
The environment and ingredients are favorable for Orlando to become a center for autonomous vehicle research and development.
Why? First, Florida’s state government and associated entities have made the environment conducive. 7 years ago the state recognized that autonomous vehicles were an industry it wanted to encourage and we became the second state (after Nevada) to allow testing of autonomous vehicles on our public roads. Last month Gov. DeSantis signed the Autonomous Vehicles bill. It removes what “unnecessary obstacles that hinder the development of autonomous vehicle technology and solidifies Florida’s position as a leading state for transportation innovation.” It also provides that “a licensed human operator is not required to operate a fully autonomous vehicle,” as well as “authorizing a fully autonomous vehicle to operate in this state regardless of whether a human operator is physically present in the vehicle.”
Just west of Orlando, adjacent to Florida Polytechnic University on I4, is the $42M SunTrax 2.25 mile oval track for autonomous vehicle testing. The Central Florida Autonomous Vehicle Partnership sponsors SunTrax — including the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, Florida Polytechnic University, NASA, the University of Central Florida, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University and Lynx. The track is just being completed and an operator is expected to be named soon that will focus on getting autonomous vehicle tenants.
Second, our scientific and engineering talent give us the ingredients. As we reported on last week, Luminar Technologies, an autonomous vehicle sensor startup, found Orlando to be the best place in the US for LiDAR engineering talent (Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, UCF, Harris, and NASA). This, coupled with additional expertise beyond LiDAR, including advanced processing and computer modeling, make the region ripe for scaling up autonomous vehicle R&D efforts.
With this favorable climate, we cannot, however, rest on our laurels and take the attitude of "build it and they will come" and "provide the talent and they will come." It will take leadership and a coordinated effort between our universities, government organizations, and businesses to foster the growth of autonomous vehicle research and development here. I am hopeful our region will devote the resources to make this happen. If so, I think future generations will be able to look back to this time and say this was the spark that ignited Orlando's innovation economy.