The Growing Autonomous Vehicle Industry in Texas

Thomas Bamonte, Senior Program Manager, Automated Vehicles, North Central Texas Council of Governments joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the growing autonomous trucking and autonomous vehicle industries in Texas.

The conversation begins with Tom discussing how he first became interested in autonomous vehicles. In 2006, Tom wrote an article about merging the best of highway transportation and transit through autonomous vehicles.

Little did Tom know at the time, but this article would go on to have a profound effect on his career. After writing the article, Tom started attending conferences and became one of the earliest individuals discussing the positive impact that autonomy will have on society.

Being based in the Dallas Fort Worth Region, Tom has a front-row seat to autonomy as the region is emerging as the home of autonomous trucking. The geographical features of the region are land, land, and more land. With these geographical features, Tom explains why the region has openly embraced autonomous trucking.

We are a large inland port and we have to be extra scrappy because we do not have a river or a seaport, we just have land. We have to be extra innovative and extra supportive of our freight partners.

– Thomas Bamonte

The region is part of the Texas Triangle and the home to DFW (Dallas Fort Worth International Airport) which is a major cargo hub. The airport has a yearly $20 billion economic impact on the North Texas Region. With welcoming State and Regional Governments, a major cargo hub, and freight companies located in the region, the area is well-positioned to fully embrace the future of autonomous trucking.

We are well situated at the apex of the Texas triangle to host freight operations. It’s a great central U.S. location where AV freight can reach basically all of the country within a reasonable amount of time.

– Thomas Bamonte

As the Texas population continues to grow as individuals and families relocate from other States, Grayson asks Tom how the North Central Texas Council of Governments is continuing to drive the economic growth from autonomous vehicle companies relocating to the region.

We are investing in our AV 2.0 program. We’re advancing six automated vehicle deployments and we’re moving from thinking of deployments as individual exercises. We are trying to build a regional AV program that has everything from sidewalk delivery bots. We are investing in what may become the nation’s first automated truck port. That is one of the six projects.

We are signaling through our investments that we are open for business and willing to effectively partner with our private sector AV developer partners.

– Thomas Bamonte

Expanding the conversation to other regions of Texas, Grayson asks Tom about Argo AI’s deployment in Austin and Nuro’s deployment in Houston.

All of the Texas cities are evolving into very diverse AV environments.

– Thomas Bamonte

When Drive AI operated a self-driving passenger service for the public in Frisco and Arlington, Texas in 2018 and 2019, they interacted with the community and did outreach to the local community to encourage future engineers to learn about the technology. The community/school outreach program was a tremendous success with Tom summing it up as a Norman Rockwell moment.

With the AV 2.0 plan, NCTCOG has partnered with Dallas College to stand up and invest in an AV-oriented curriculum with a focus on trucking and autonomy. Additionally, NCTCOG organized the North Texas Center For Mobility Technologies.

We are looking for every opportunity to work with the AV companies to develop the curriculum and engage with the next generation of workers in the transportation and related sectors.

– Thomas Bamonte

Shifting the conversation to autonomy and urban environments, Tom shares his thoughts on what autonomous passenger vehicle and delivery deployments will look like in the future.

I can see delivery expanding from individual items to experiences and a richer sort of interaction, instead of just having stuff dropped off.

– Thomas Bamonte

With the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers being located in the Dallas Forth Worth region, there is a tremendous opportunity for bespoke day-of-game autonomous vehicle experiences.

Wrapping up the conversation, Tom makes the case on why autonomous vehicle and autonomous trucking companies should consider expanding to Texas.

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Recorded on Tuesday, June 22, 2021.