A business leader welcomes the self-driving future

“It's that entrepreneurial spirit that thrives in the desert… we're innovative, not because we want to be innovative; we're innovative because it's who we are.”

Denny Barney is the sixth generation of his family to live in the Phoenix East Valley. His pioneer ancestors came to the West in wagons, forged the Colorado River, and built a new life of opportunity here.

“People loaded up their wagons and their livestock and they started heading west, looking for places to live, to grow their families, or start a business or a new life,” Denny explains.

Centuries later, people are still flocking to this community in Greater Phoenix, and the region is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the entire U.S.

Denny serves as an Ex Officio Director of the Phoenix East Valley Partnership (EVP), a nonprofit dedicated to making the East Valley a forward-looking and vibrant place where people want to work and live. EVP is doing this together with corporate and municipal partners including Intel, Southwest Airlines, and The City of Chandler, among others.

He is also a former public servant – he served on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors – and an entrepreneur. He’s seen firsthand how talent, community, and curiosity come together to create a dynamic region that’s home to everything from startup tech companies to thriving universities.

But Denny says it is his role as a father that inspires him most of all to make his community a place that embraces opportunity, where future generations can build their lives and thrive.

“I want to create runways for my own family in the same way that my dad, my great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather created runways for me.”

Denny rides in a Waymo self-driving vehicle with his sons in the Phoenix East Valley.

Denny rides in a Waymo self-driving vehicle with his sons in the Phoenix East Valley.

Innovation: “It’s in my DNA.”

“I do what I do with the Phoenix East Valley Partnership because, on the one hand, it’s in my DNA, but more importantly, I want to create runways for my own family in the same way that my dad, my great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather created runways for me,” Denny says.

Denny adds that there is something special about the “technology ecosystem” of the Phoenix East Valley.

“It’s that entrepreneurial spirit that thrives in the desert… we’re innovative, not because we want to be innovative,” he explains. “We’re innovative because it’s who we are.”

Denny points to Arizona State University, an institution that has consistently topped U.S. News and World Report’s list of Most Innovative Colleges, and companies like Waymo which have introduced new technologies to the region.

Waymo, founded in 2009 as the Google self-driving car project, introduced its public ride-hailing service in the Phoenix East Valley in 2018 under the Waymo One brand.

Denny with his sons in front of a Waymo self-driving vehicle.

Denny with his sons in front of a Waymo self-driving vehicle.

A transformative technology for the future

Denny is excited about how fully self-driving vehicles have the potential to help address pressing challenges in growing communities, like the stressful search for parking and the fatigue of long daily commutes.

“Over time, the way we move people is going to have to change as we continue to see people pour into these urban centers like the Phoenix East Valley,” Denny says.

He adds that fully self-driving cars could give people back time in their days… time without distractions they could use to reflect and think big about what they want to accomplish.

“You don’t spend so much time thinking about, ‘How am I going to get from point A to point B?’ because it becomes the touch of a button,” Denny says.

Denny believes fully self-driving technology has the potential to benefit local economies in the form of job creation.

“It creates an ecosystem that has both secondary and tertiary jobs that come with it that are all part of the emergence of this new industry that three years ago, two years ago, didn’t exist,” Denny points out. “This is about everybody benefiting from an emerging technology that changes the way we move, and the way that that telegraphs itself through the entire ecosystem is magnificent.”

Denny also believes self-driving technology could reduce the enormous financial costs associated with the injuries caused by traffic crashes, 94% of which involve mistakes made by drivers (like drunk and distracted driving).

Fully self-driving technology is constantly vigilant and can see up to three football fields away, 360 degrees, day or night, and is designed to be a cautious, defensive driver. Self-driving cars can’t get distracted, drunk, or text while driving.

Waymo fully self-driving technology has driven more than 10 million miles across 25 cities and continues to improve with every mile. That’s because Waymo’s technology is constantly learning and sharing new driving insights with all the vehicles in its fleet.

“I think what's really exciting for me, is this idea that not only are we going to move people around more efficiently, more effectively, more cost-effectively, with less impact on the environment, but that we're going to do that in a way that's abundantly safer,” Denny says.

“Over time, the way we move people is going to have to change as we continue to see people pour into these urban centers like the Phoenix East Valley.”

The next generation of innovation

Denny took his sons on a ride in the Waymo fully self-driving vehicle in Chandler, AZ in the spring of 2019. Coincidentally, it was the same week one of his sons got his driver’s license.

“What’s fun for me is to drive around town with my teenage sons and to say, ‘you will likely have children that won’t have a driver’s license because they won’t need it.’ That’s how transformative this is,” Denny says. “When I look at the next generation of innovation in the Phoenix East Valley, it’s happening now.”

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