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Foxconn Planning Self-Driving Facility in Michigan

by Sam Chase
While best known for being the primary manufacturer of Apple's iPhones, Foxconn Technology Group makes an awful lot of things.

Video game enthusiasts almost certainly own at least one Foxconn product, as the company builds the Nintendo 3DS, the Wii U, the PlayStations 3 and 4 and the XBox One. The company also makes cellphones beyond the iPhone, including products for BlackBerry and Nokia, as well as Amazon's Kindle e-reader and Dell PCs.

All told, Foxconn is the world's largest manufacturer of consumer electronics.

However, as recent news clearly illustrates, Foxconn has its sights set on electronics that extend far beyond those that can fit in a user's hands. The South China Morning Post reports that the Taiwanese company plans to make a multibillion dollar investment into the development of autonomous vehicle technology in Michigan. The exact amount of the investment remains to be determined. It's also not clear what the money will be used for, but the most likely answer is a research and development facility in some shape or form.

"Automotive development in the US is still more advanced than China," Foxconn founder Terry Gou told the Post. "Besides self-driving technology, I'm also interested in artificial intelligence and deep learning technology."

Gou's vague allusions to AI and deep learning tech suggests that the media isn't the only one in the dark about Foxconn's intentions in Michigan. The company itself may not have a clear idea of exactly what it plans to do. The announcement of the Michigan initiative came mere days after Foxconn made huge waves elsewhere in the Midwest, with the announcement of a $10 billion plant in Wisconsin to manufacture LCD crystals.

That project, however, is already ensconced in controversy after studies showed that the $3 billion in incentives needed to lure Foxconn to Wisconsin would take at least 25 years for taxpayers to break even on.

Those economic concerns have given the state legislature some pause in approving the plant and the its requisite incentives, although Gov. Scott Walker maintains that the deal will get done. Between the indeterminate nature of the Michigan facility and the fact that it would require similarly substantial investment by taxpayers, it may still be too early to call Foxconn's Michigan plans a done deal.

If the manufacturer does come to Michigan, though, it will enter one of the most autonomous vehicle-friendly states in the US. In December 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a bill that makes the state more permissive to the testing of self-driving cars on its roads than nearly all other states. Autonomous vehicle developers are already taking advantage. In late July, Magna International and Continental piloted a self-driving car that drove between Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario. This fall, Ann Arbor residents will see autonomous shuttles built by Navya navigating the University of Michigan campus.

For now, this Foxconn story remains one to watch. But given the size and influence of the company and the motivation on the part of Michigan to be a leader in the self-driving car space, it certainly seems more likely than not to happen in some capacity.

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