Blog Madrona, Microsoft, Kemper push to make Bellevue the self-driving car capital of the world

Original Article

Originally published at the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Bellevue real estate developer Kemper Freeman, Madrona Venture Group Founder and Managing Director Tom Alberg and representatives from companies including Microsoft, Google, ReachNow and Uber met Thursday to discuss ways to make the region — specifically Bellevue — a leader in autonomous vehicles.

Bellevue was built as a car city and its infrastructure is better equipped for self-driving cars than Seattle.

Bellevue is set up to manipulate traffic lights remotely, for example, meaning self-driving cars could sync with that system instead of having to develop technology that could determine the color of the lights, Alberg said.

"We’re working on putting together a coalition of interested partners and companies in the area to help develop an agenda including autonomous, as well as electric, as well as shared (vehicles)," Alberg said.

There are few details about the work the coalition is planning, but setting up the Puget Sound region as a destination for the development and testing of autonomous vehicle technology would almost certainly be a boon to the economy. The self-driving car market is expected to be a $42 billion business by 2025, Boston Consulting Group predicted.

Self-driving cars would bring skilled jobs to Bellevue and could help alleviate the region's traffic problems.

Bringing together Bellevue's top real estate developer with the region's biggest transportation technology companies and investors could help self-driving cars advance more quickly in the city.

Madrona is already an investor in companies developing technology for autonomous vehicles, including Bellevue radar technology startup Echodyne and self-driving car data startup Mighty AI.

The firm on Friday moved up its projection for when I-5 will be used exclusively for autonomous vehicles to 2040. No human drivers, the firm predicted, will be allowed on the freeway after that time.

The Washington State Department of Transportation and Seattle Department of Transportation have expressed an interest in working with Madrona on self-driving vehicles. Gov. Jay Inslee recently opened Washington roads to autonomous vehicle testing.

Alberg sees big opportunities for existing companies in the Seattle-area to play a role in creating an autonomous vehicle hub. Airbiquity, Inrix, Google, Lyft and Uber all have engineering offices in the Puget Sound region working on driverless technology.

Cascadia Center

Founded in 1993, as the Cascadia Project, Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center for Regional Development is an important force in regional transportation and sustainable development issues. Cascadia is known for its involvement in transportation and development issues in the Cascadia Corridor, Puget Sound and in the U.S.-Canadian cross-border realm. We’ve recently added to that mix through a major program to promote U.S. efforts to reduce reliance on foreign oil, including the earliest possible development and integration of flex-fuel, plug-in, hybrid-electric vehicles.