From Space City to ATOS: Sacramento Will Lead the Nation in Autonomous Vehicles
As a little boy living in Mumbai, I remember pressing my ear to a transistor radio and feeling captivated by a noisy transmission from the surface of the moon. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” That moment inspired me to travel to the United States to start a career that has borne witness to breathtaking transformations to the way we do business, socialize, live our lives and run our democracy.
What I didn’t understand as a child is what an opportunity the Apollo program was for the city of Houston. In the 1960s Texas business and political leaders seized the opportunity to become “Space City,” bringing NASA’s mission control, and the jobs and economic development that come with it, to Houston. Today, Sacramento and the state of California have a similar opportunity to become an international leader in autonomous vehicle development.
The first automobiles were called horseless carriages and similarly autonomous vehicles are referred to as “self-driving cars” which I find ironic given they will soon become commonplace. Companies are building and testing the vehicles and software that power them right now. That’s because the explosion of access to data and improved infrastructure to connect to it makes a world of autonomous vehicles cheaper, safer and more efficient than the one we know today. Soon enough, “self-driving cars” will be driving alongside humans on our highways.
But this technology will never be a reality if autonomous vehicle manufacturers and developers do not work closely with government regulators, elected officials, community leaders, the private sector and universities to make it one.
That’s why US Representative Doris Matsui, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and I helped to create a public-private consortium called the Autonomous Transportation Open Standards (ATOS) Lab. This organization is the first in the United States dedicated to speed the development of autonomous vehicle technology. We are creating the HTTP of autonomous vehicles — an open source platform that ensures city governments and private companies have a standardized and interoperable platform to build upon.
Sacramento — the capital of the sixth largest economy in the world — has a unique opportunity to serve as a platform for rapid deployment and demonstration of autonomous vehicles. For example, we are poised to be the first 5G-wired city in California, giving developers the fastest possible wireless broadband platform to power new vehicles. Few cities in the country have the diversity of terrain, climate and pavement required for the kind of comprehensive road testing car companies need. And even fewer have the deep community of technologists, manufacturers and academics willing to solve the toughest problems autonomous vehicles will face.
In Sacramento our leaders chose to work together, take advantage of emerging trends and grow the city responsibly. As part of a $1 billion investment to transform downtown, the Sacramento Kings opened the new Golden 1 Center, a groundbreaking public-private partnership that’s gained worldwide recognition for its best in class technology, unprecedented commitment to sustainability and unique commitments to its community. The arena is expected to attract 1.6 million new visitors to the region annually, has already generated nearly $537 million in property sales and created 4,000 new permanent jobs.
History also positions Sacramento to be a leader in the new economy. Remember that, in less than a decade, the world’s largest bookseller grew to have no book stores, the largest music seller to have no music stores, the largest taxi company to have no cars and the largest hotel company to own no hotel rooms. This new era is what I call “Civilization 3.0.” While Civilization 1.0 was the beginning of modern civilization, where the economy largely consisted of skilled laborers selling products to the people who lived near them, the industrial revolution sparked Civilization 2.0. Inventions like electricity and factory lines made labor more efficient, allowing for faster change than we ever thought possible. And now faster, more abundant access to data is ushering in a Civilization 3.0 economy, where ideas and experiences are the most important assets, and people can demand nearly anything in real time.
From civilization to civilization, societies adapt to technological changes to become more efficient. Power centers change — port cities are no longer as important as cities with access to fast and reliable data infrastructure for example — and come from adapting quickly to changing markets, using big data to identify trends and react to them. Our civic leaders and citizens see this, and businesses are starting to join the trend.
Investors get it. Investment in civic technology — like autonomous vehicle infrastructure planning or apps that fix potholes — has grown 14 times faster than traditional tech investments. Government towns do not traditionally attract investment, but business in places like Sacramento is booming. In fact, according to the latest Sacramento Business Review report, the region surpassed the national average for post-2008 labor market and employment growth. Small business loans increased by 30 percent in just the last year and there was a 24.3 percent increase in the number of companies looking to hire. And according to a new study from the Brookings Institute, Sacramento has seen a 91 percent increase in people participating in the new “gig-economy” since 2012 — that’s among the top ten largest growth rates in the United States.
For years, Sacramento has been a destination for disruptors. Explorers hunting for gold, artists looking for inspiration and engineers trying to solve the problems of tomorrow have found a home in this region. Today, the ATOS Lab begins a new chapter in that history.