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Flying cars and delivery robots subjects of state Senate transportation committee hearings

Matt Chasen, LIFT Aircraft chief executive officer, pilots the electric vertical takeoff and landing Hexa over Camp Mabry, Texas, August 20, 2020.
Staff. Sgt. Sean Kornegay
Air National Guard
Matt Chasen, LIFT Aircraft chief executive officer, pilots the electric vertical takeoff and landing Hexa over Camp Mabry, Texas, August 20, 2020.

Bills dealing with future technology like flying cars and delivery robots received hearings Wednesday before the state Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

One set of bills would create a new Advanced Air Mobility Study Committee. The group would look at policies for what the bills call “advanced air mobility.”

That’s a system used to transport people and things between domestic locations using aircraft. The system can include electric aircraft and technologies that use vertical takeoff and landing.

State Senator Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) is a co-sponsor of the bill package.

“Too often, I think, legislators are the last to the party when it comes to looking to the future and looking at what regulations need to be in place in order to make things safe and promote industries,” Hertel said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Hertel’s co-sponsor, Senator Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) agreed.

Nesbitt said the proposal would get Michigan ready for the future.

“We have some of the best autonomous vehicle laws in the nation, and I think going the next step on advanced air mobility, I think is … critical as we continue to look at growing our state,” Nesbitt said.

Supporters say an “advanced air mobility” system could potentially look like subway routes operating in the sky.

Another bill that heard testimony would regulate short-distance automated delivery devices — like robots.

Under that proposal, those devices would be no more than 32 inches wide, go a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour, and only transport goods, not people.

Bill sponsor Senator Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway Twp.) said it would also prohibit local governments from making their own rules for the devices. There would be a size-related exception for Detroit.

“It’s just one of those areas where [it’s] so much easier to bring a technology like this to the state if it’s consistent across the landscape and not asking these companies to negotiate with each individual municipality about what their rules would be,” Lauwers said.

Critics of the bill said local governments should have more control and time to choose whether to join or opt out of the program.

“We understand the want for some consistency, but also, we see the need for local communities to again set things like school zones. We have designated safe routes to schools in certain hours. Would you want the robots operating on those sidewalks while there’s a whole ton of kids?” Sean Hammond, with the Michigan Townships Association, said.

Companies like FedEx have already begun testing these delivery devices in other states.

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