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Ford autonomous vehicle
Over 20 companies in Washington work in the autonomous vehicle space, and Google has begun testing their autonomous vehicles in the state. (Ford Photo)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants to ensure that his state is at the forefront of autonomous vehicle development.

The governor on Wednesday signed an executive order that encourages pilot tests of autonomous vehicles on Washington roads and establishes a working group to help ensure AV developers are supported by the state.

Under the order, autonomous vehicle testing could start on Washington state roads within 60 days. The order say the potential impact of autonomous vehicles was key in making this decision: “roughly 94 percent of automobile accidents are caused by human error, and autonomous vehicle technology may reduce injuries and save countless lives,” it says.

Washington’s state legislature is also considering regulations and licensing around autonomous vehicle testing and ownership, although those would take more time to fall in place.

The order was signed at Bellevue-based startup Echodyne, which is developing advanced radar systems that could be used in AVs and drones. It’s one of more than 20 Washington-based companies that are developing technology with possible uses in autonomous vehicles. Google, for example, has already begun testing some of its automated vehicles in Kirkland, Wash.

Also on Wednesday, Seattle-based artificial intelligence startup MightyAI announced a new office in Detroit Wednesday to refine the company’s focus on AV applications for its work.

Both Echodyne and Mighty AI are in the portfolio of Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group, which is putting an emphasis on investing in startups building AV technologies. Madrona co-founder Tom Alberg has long been a proponent of accelerating innovation in the field.

“I welcome Governor’s Inslee’s actions since these will accelerate the introduction of autonomous and shared vehicles to our region, which will do so much to reduce traffic deaths and accidents, improve the environment, reduce congestion and lower the cost of transportation for everyone,” Alberg said in a statement to GeekWire. “As a leading technology region it is important that we be a leader in the development of these technologies.”

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