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MLive: Rep. Debbie Dingell visits Ann Arbor startups, talks autonomous vehicles


Ann Arbor, MI, August 3, 2017 | Jessica Haynes

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell visited the headquarters of Ann Arbor SPARK on Tuesday, Aug. 1, a day recognized as National Startup Day, to tour new companies making strides in healthcare programs and autonomous drone technology.

"Quite frankly, I really learned a lot," Dingell, D-Dearborn, said about the visit. "I had a really good discussion with the startup companies about what we need to do to encourage them to succeed."

Startup Day was created in 2013 to connect startup companies with their elected officials to discuss the challenges and opportunities that accompany entrepreneurship. It is also a platform to talk about regulations and policies that help or hinder business growth.

Part of the visit was devoted to touring the work spaces of two Ann Arbor startups: SkySpecs, a company that is using autonomous drones for infrastructure inspections, and Workit Health, an online addiction care program currently accepting patients in Michigan.

Dingell later spoke about the impact of legislation and policies to ensure the continued growth of businesses ranging from small startups to large-scale private and public funded initiatives like the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township.

Dingell said she was glad to hear news of Toyota North America's $5 million sponsorship of the American Center for Mobility, an autonomous and connected vehicle testing facility currently under construction near the Willow Run Airport, about 15 minutes from Ann Arbor. 

"I am very grateful that Toyota is contributing to the success of Willow Run as a test site," Dingell said. "I think you will see other companies follow. It's an example of how we all need to work together, at a local and state level, to make sure we are at the forefront of technology."

Self Drive Act moving along

Legislation on self-driving vehicle regulations, backed by Dingell, was recently approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee with a unanimous vote in favor of the bipartisan framework.

Called the Self Drive Act, the document outlines language that would provide for the following:

  • A Federal Advisory Committee within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with subcommittees to examine mobility access for people with disabilities and senior citizens and cybersecurity.
  • Establishing exemptions for motor vehicle safety standards to make it easier to develop and evaluate autonomous vehicles.
  • Requirement of safety assessment certification submissions by manufacturers, including a cybersecurity plan.

"We want the United States to remain in the driver's seat, and today's draft bill is a major step in the right direction," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell said.

The process leading up to this point has taken about three years of hearings, research and collaboration and "required more teamwork than you will ever know," Dingell said.

"We don't have all the answers but you don't find all the answers if you don't start talking about them," Dingell said. "They can't put those vehicles on the road until we pass this legislation, until we deal with how these issues will be framed."

She said the legislation has been one of her top priorities since being elected to Congress and has been the subject of intense conversations about the future of the automobile industry and the accompanying technology issues.

Conversations with startups

Other priorities include cyber security and privacy, topics which came up during her Ann Arbor visit as Dingell spoke with startup companies and learned things about each of their respective businesses.

"It was a very interesting day and allowed me to ask a lot of questions," Dingell said. "Not only do you learn about them, but you learn about subjects... healthcare, gaming, autonomous technology, engineering."

She also heard about topics that are affecting businesses in Ann Arbor and across the country like immigration reform, infrastructure, research and development funding and cybersecurity. 

"People in Michigan know that Ann Arbor is a strong economy and are migrating here but that message isn't resonating as well out of the state," said Paul Krutko, president and CEO of SPARK.

Dingell took the opportunity to talk with the companies about the kind of public policy they would like to see that would support their businesses, along with issues like education, funding and regulatory 

Entrepreneurs and young companies are driving new job growth in Ann Arbor and throughout the state, in all sorts of industries, and Dingell said she will do what she can to make sure they have the tools and resources to continue.

"We want to make sure they stay strong and stay in Ann Arbor," Dingell said. "We are at the forefront of innovation and technology, that's what I think we need to tell the story more of."

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