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Kansas Bill Would Bring Audio-Visual Tech For ‘Halfway’ Freight Transportation

A bill recently introduced in the Kansas Senate proposes to allow autonomous vehicle (AV) distribution of goods over the “average mile” within the state.

Although Senate Bill 379 does not specify the AV Gatik company, it was introduced in the legislature by Walmart, in partnership with the company, according to Mike O’Neal, who spoke to the Senate Transportation Committee during of one February 1 hearing on behalf of Walmart. The intermediate mile is defined in the bill as “the intrastate commercial movement of goods, in a business-to-business capacity, between two or more fixed points on fixed and repeatable routes.”

In anticipation of arguments that the bill would be too narrow, which were later advanced by opponents of the bill during the continuing committee hearing on the bill on February 10, O’Neal said that the legislation was intended for any AV company that wishes to operate in the mid-mile space.

“We felt the most measured approach was the most practical, good public policy and that’s the one we have a proven safety record that can back us up,” he said.

On security, Gatik’s head of policy and communications, Richard Steiner, said the company is committed to data transparency with authorities and submits security reports at the local, state and local levels. Federal, which so far have been reporting “no incidents”. Companies are required to submit monthly accident reports to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration under a general standing order.

Gatik operates its Tier 4 AV trucks from Walmart fulfillment centers to stores or other customer-centric locations in Louisiana and Arkansas. Steiner said there are also Gatik operations in California, Texas and Ontario, Canada, but did not share with which companies. Gatik operates electric and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Apeksha Kumavat, co-founder and chief engineer of Gatik, told the committee that the audio-visual systems are designed specifically for each route and are “exhaustively” tested on the routes. Hardware, software and infrastructure, including braking and steering systems, are duplicated. In the event of a component malfunction or failure, operation can be switched to the sub-component to “bring the vehicle to a safe state”, she said. AVs can only operate on routes for which they are deployed.

The trucks are monitored and assisted remotely to take over, if necessary, or to speak to the enfo of the lawNCEis lying. The first year of each new line, a driver is on board. Kumavat said it takes less than 500 milliseconds for vehicles to stop or stop when needed. In the event of bad weather, sensors on the trucks identify whether the conditions are right for them to continue their journeys. Otherwise, they will park in a safe and pre-identified place.

O’Neal and Steiner said if Kansas passes the bill, they’ll join 44 states that already have AV policies in place. Wyoming and Pennsylvania have introduced bills in current legislative sessions that allow manned or unmanned AV operation.

Under the bill’s definition of the AV owner, O’Neal said Gatik would be liable for any tickets received or accidents for which the AVs are responsible. The company would also be the insurance policy holder for each of the VAs.

The legislation would also allow Gatik to create new engineering, technical, driving, and fleet management jobs in Kansas; improving safety by reducing the number of “traffic incidents” caused by distracted driving, impaired driving or inattentive driving; establishing a reliable supply chain through the middle mile, improving fuel economy and reducing truck service and maintenance requirements, according to Steiner.

Opponents of the bills during the February 10 hearing The sequel criticized the bill’s specified use of the mid-mile, its lack of safety accountability, and insurance coverage requirements.

“Such an approach to broadcast regulation would make Kansas self-sufficient among all U.S. states by expressly prohibiting an entire technology ecosystem from operating in Kansas other than allowing, for now, limited operations by a single company,” said Ariel Wolf, general counsel for the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association. He was one of many industry representatives who argued in favor of federal regulations on audio-visual vehicles during a hearing of the United States House Subcommittee on Highways and Public Transit. February 2.

The Kansas bill, as it currently stands, would deny Kansas the safety, mobility, supply chain efficiency, and “substantial” environmental benefits that AV vehicles provide across the country, said Wolf.

Jackie Beckwith, on behalf of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (UVSI), said the bill would “significantly reduce the mobility and property benefits that larger AV vehicles provide” for businesses, elderly and disabled people.

“By limiting the operation of automated vehicles so severely in Kansas, this bill would actually disadvantage companies that want to benefit from using the various types of automated freight transportation technologies to increase productivity, increase labor work and reach new markets,” she said.

Ruthie Barko, with TechNet, encouraged lawmakers to “pursue a balanced approach” in regulating AVs. According to its website, TechNet is a national, bipartisan network of tech CEOs whose members include General Motors, Amazon, Apple and several others.

The American Justice Association’s senior state affairs attorney, Daniel Hinkle, said the bill should hold Gatik accountable for security.

Blake Shuart, a KTLA member and civil attorney with the Hutton & Hutton law firm in Wichita, criticized the Bill’s minimum insurance liability requirements, which he believes should be higher. Other states require insurance coverage in the millions, he said. Shuart also noted that the bill does not require the owner or operator of the vehicle to stay at the scene of an accident and contact law enforcement. The bill should also be more specific about what AVs must do in the event of any type of failure — system or otherwise, such as stopping and turning on emergency signal lights, he said.

Philip Koopman, who said he’s worked on audiovisual security for more than 25 years, told the committee the bill lacked “key safeguards” and hoped checks and balances would be added, including requiring remote supervision and a figurative circuit breaker in the event of a malfunction or accident.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Petersen (R-28) said he thinks the bill should require driver safety training and weight limits on trucks.

No future hearing was scheduled on the bill Friday afternoon.


Featured Image Credit: CraftyLenz/iStock

Gatik presentation slides (Screenshots from the Senate Transportation Committee YouTube video from February 1)

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