Google driver-less cars not coming to Alaska anytime soon

It may be a while before ice road truckers become ice road computers. But one of Google’s top lobbyists was in Juneau Thursday to talk about driver-less cars. Google state legislative affairs representative Ron Barnes wouldn’t commit to bringing autonomous vehicles to the Alaska anytime soon, saying that Google’s engineers determine where the company tests its cars.

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“Oh, we keep a list of places everywhere that might be somewhere we would need, but the engineering needs drive really where we go right now,” Barnes said. “And what new information do we need in order to make the software, make the cars more robust and their ability to handle driving scenarios.”

Barnes’s visit gave Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation project manager Jomo Stewart a chance to pitch the state as the ideal place for Google to test cars in cold weather conditions.

“Cold can be a real challenge, but it also can be an opportunity,” said Stewart. “And so we market Fairbanks, Alaska, promote Fairbanks, Alaska, as the most accessible, reliable, and affordable place in the U.S. to do cold-weather testing.”

Palmer Republican Representative Shelley Hughes says the state can be ahead of the curve in planning for driver-less cars.

“There’s an opportunity,” Hughes said. “Right now, they have to work out how to manage those on ice and snow. Alaska – that might be an opportunity for Alaska. I don’t know. I don’t know if it will be a good fit or not. But it’s one of things that – I believe that if we can open the door to these kind of things – every bit and piece – that’s going to be a multi-billion dollar industry. If Alaska can just get a sliver of that economic pie, that will be good.”

Google’s driver-less cars have driven more than 1 million miles on roads in California, as well as pilot projects in Austin, Texas, and Kirkland, Washington.