Can you believe it has been 10 years since the iPhone first hit the market?

Just think how quickly and dramatically this technology changed our daily habits, jobs and vocabulary. When Steve Jobs introduced his new device in 2007, I didn’t know if I’d even want one. Now it’s rarely far from my reach.

Flash forward to today, where autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are the latest tech world buzz. New technology, test runs and major investments are moving the concept closer to mainstream reality. This summer, the issue seems to be in the news more than ever.

Earlier this month, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made a potentially game-changing announcement in the world of autonomous vehicles. Musk’s Hyperloop, just a concept when he proposed his vision four years ago, is now becoming a reality with an autonomous, underground tube-based route that will take passengers from New York to Washington, D.C. in just 29 minutes.

When Musk’s Tesla Model 3, being touted as the electric vehicle maker’s first affordable luxury sedan, hit the market in late July, it already was equipped for autonomous driving, needing just a system upgrade to make the switch. Cadillac and Chrysler late last month orchestrated 350-mile test drives of autonomous vehicles across the U.S./Canada border, marking the first such experiment to cross international boundaries.

Waymo, Google’s autonomous driving division, recently began testing semi-autonomous big rigs, which could change the way freight moves across our nation’s highways.

Rideshare company Lyft is establishing autonomous units in limited markets, following Uber’s move. Other rideshare companies are in discussions to follow suit.

Nearly every major automaker is well into development and testing of autonomous vehicles.

Like most new technologies, the moves are exciting and thought-provoking, if not a little bit scary.

Are they safe? The industry says safety is the main reason for the moves, with technology taking over to prevent distracted, impaired and fatigued driving accidents and fatalities.

What do these advancements mean for the future of the automotive industry? Will drivers in the trucking and public transit arenas be out of work? What about heavy equipment operators?

As of this month, 33 states have introduced legislation on autonomous vehicles in an effort to address some of these concerns. Indiana has yet to address the issue but should do so.

Hoosiers are starting to reap the rewards of the changing market. Delphi’s Kokomo distribution center in Howard County creates technology for autonomous vehicles. Our universities — including Purdue, Indiana University and Notre Dame — are researching, developing and analyzing the technologies. Even our high school students are getting in on the movement.

Gov. Eric Holcomb pledged his commitment to STEM education in his January State of the State address and recognized his first STEM Team award winners in May, a group of brilliant high school students representing the best of the best in science, technology, engineering and math. Holcomb said the young people are “fueling the innovation and entrepreneurship to build our economic future.”

Innovation, entrepreneurship and economy are indeed intrinsically linked. Planning today for our economic future requires a regulatory environment that fosters creativity, entrepreneurship and success.

Carl Lisek is executive director of South Shore Clean Cities and vice president of Legacy Environmental Services. The opinions are the writer’s.


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