Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, has introduced a bill that would pave the road for autonomous car testing and research at Castle Commerce Center.
Senate Bill 251, co-authored by Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, would allow the roads at Castle to be used for the testing of driverless vehicles by a remote operator.
“California has been at the forefront of new technologies, and autonomous vehicles are the next frontier,”Cannella said in a statement to the Sun-Star. “Senate Bill 251 provides a venue and framework for the testing of these vehicles in a controlled environment, and it’s right here in the Central Valley.”
Currently, Google leases 60 acres of land at Castle to develop its self-driving-car program, which mostly occurs in a fenced-off space.
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Cannella’s bill would allow other companies to use the existing roadways at Castle. An existing law allows a similar pilot project in Contra Costa County for autonomous cars traveling 35 mph or slower.
The bill is in line with county officials’ overall vision for Castle to become an industry hub through a public-private partnership, said Mark Hendrickson, community and economic development director for Merced County.
“We want to position Castle as a place where this type of technology and research can take place,” he said.
When Hendrickson and his team first introduced the new plan for Castle last year, a market analysis showed Castle is best positioned to be a manufacturing hub for businesses in industries such as food processing, specialty chemicals, medical equipment, industrial machinery and self-driving cars.
A number of automotive and software companies have expressed interest in Castle’s location and its use for self-driving cars, Hendrickson said.
Cannella’s bill would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to collect data on any collisions or failures of autonomous technology. Any company or organization overseeing the project likely would submit plans to the DMV and vehicles would have to be certified and registered.
Cannella’s office is waiting for the rules committee to assign the bill in March, at the earliest, before it goes to a committee hearing.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477