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Reimagining Connectivity in Michigan and the Role of Autonomous Vehicles

Key Takeaways: 

  • Today, Sept. 22, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the Lake Michigan EV Circuit, an extensive vehicle charging network along Lake Michigan. The nation’s first electrified road will wirelessly charge electric vehicles.
  • Over the last five years there have been great advancements to vehicle technology, however, infrastructure has not experienced those same advancements, creating a challenge.
  • Over a year ago, the state of Michigan partnered with technology company, Cavnue, to create the state’s first smart corridor. Cavnue chose Michigan for its leadership in autonomy.
  • Part of improving connectivity and the autonomous experience, will require cameras along the roadway to help build insights. Camera footage will generate a large amount of data, creating a need for fiber connectivity, which is where internet companies like Comcast Business come in.

The pressures of the pandemic inspired new ways to accelerate sustainable prosperity, connect underserved communities, and protect the health and safety of Michigan’s most vulnerable residents. In a conversation at the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference, Paul W. Smith, host of WJR NewsTalk 760 AM, and futurists, Marc Siry, vice president of strategic development and complex solutions for Comcast Business, and Mark de la Vergne, vice president of project development of Cavnue, explored the ways that Michigan is reimagining connectivity and the role of autonomous vehicles, and how it ties into Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent announcement.

Today, Sept. 22, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the Lake Michigan EV Circuit, the nation’s first wireless charging infrastructure on a public road. This new roadway is just one piece of the infrastructure plans in Michigan, with Cavnue, a technology company founded a year ago, partnering with the state to builder smarter and safer roads through the development of one of the first smart corridors.

And while advancements in vehicles over the last five years has aided in the move to safer roadways, there are challenges in the journey to safely connecting Michigan residents.

Noted de la Vergne, “The challenge is that the infrastructure has not made those same advances, you know. You look at a road from 1950 and it’s pretty much the same road that exists in 2021. And that’s going to be a tremendous challenge to really unlock all the potential of the technology there.”

Infrastructure: The Key to Safer Vehicles and Roadways 

The key element of this equation is infrastructure, and for long-time partner and investor with the state of Michigan, Comcast, infrastructure is engrained in all they do.

“We thought that Cavnue’s vision of a connected roadway really meshed with Comcast’s goal of making sure that we are able, to bring the best connectivity … to the residents of Michigan and make sure they have all the connectivity they need and are able to access the services that are going to improve their lives, their health, their safety, and their prosperity,” Siry said.

Cavnue’s vision for roadways and autonomous vehicles is to simplify the road and provide information to vehicles on the road to unleash a “hands-off, minds-off experience,” that will result in safer travel.

Cavnue is working toward this goal is through infrastructure and technology, specifically through enhanced roads. They are building a digital twin that will be the smarts of what’s happening on the road to provide information to vehicles when road hazards are ahead.

Why Michigan? 

“Michigan was chosen basically because of leadership. The state was very forward with regards to its original autonomous vehicles policy it passed in 2016. And mobility and AVs are a pretty bipartisan issue…and I think everyone realizes the need to continue to innovate to keep the industry here,” de la Vergne said.

Comcast and Autonomous Vehicles 

In Michigan, Comcast is already working with state agencies to provide fiber connectivity to traffic cameras to allow for higher resolution imagery anticipate where there may be hazards in the road to dynamically redirect traffic patterns and address roadway issues.

Added Siry, “That’s a glimmer of the vision that Cavnue has to have the road inform the vehicle and to make travel much safer, much more sustainable, and much more prosperous for the people of Michigan.”

As cameras are added along the roadway will help build insights, fiber connectivity will be necessary to handle the large amount of data that will be created.

“We are excited about the new monetization opportunities that will come with these roadways that will allow us to extend the connectivity to parts of the state that have been underserved by connectivity in the past,” Siry said.

This session was hosted by Comcast Business.