Watch out Silicon Valley, Sacramento is gearing up to launch a research center and prototype lab focused on developing electric and autonomous vehicle technologies. The California Mobility Center is largely funded by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and supported by a band of public and private partners, including the City of Sacramento, Greater Sacramento Economic Council, Los Rios Community College District, University of California Davis, California State University Sacramento, PEM Motion, and Valley Vision Inc. EnerTech of Toronto will be managing the projected $100 million of venture capital that will fund the center.
In addition to funding and commercializing new mobility technologies for autonomous transportation, battery storage, shared mobility solutions, and public transit, the California Mobility Center aims to develop regulations and standards for autonomous vehicles through its partnership with the Autonomous Transportation Open Standards Lab. The coupling serves as a reminder to the industry that public policy is an essential factor in the success of mobility technology start-ups. The utmost importance of regulation from the general public’s perspective should be safety, particularly if one of the goals is to deliver greater safety benefits to society. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has acknowledged a need to modernize the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards with consensus-based technical standards that are nonprescriptive and performance-based. (USDOT: Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0.) To the extent future safety standards can be flexible and performance-oriented, the more accommodating they will be to facilitating rapid technological innovation.
Sacramento may be the obvious geographic choice for a new mobility technology and policy incubator, given its proximity to California regulators, such as the California Air Resources Board, California Department of Transportation, California Department of Motor Vehicles, and the California Energy Commission. However, as Sacramento positions itself to be a leader in clean transportation, its neighbor in the south, Los Angeles, is already in on the action. The Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), has been hosting cleantech companies, municipal bodies, as well as a research and development facility and work force training center out of the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles since 2016. LACI was founded in 2011 as a result of an alliance among the City of Los Angeles, Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, University of Southern California, University of California Los Angeles, California Institute of Technology, Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, Los Angeles Business Council, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Whether there will be a classic case of sibling rivalry as new mobility technology companies choose NorCal or SoCal as their home, one thing’s for certain, Silicon Valley needs to watch out!