The Obama Administration pledges to clear the way for autonomous vehicles with an investment of $4 billion to fund research and testing projects. The US government plans to invest nearly $4 billion over the next 10 years to help “accelerate the development of safe vehicle automation through real-world pilot projects,” according to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
The aim is to reduce pollution, traffic congestion and accidents. The initiative also aims to improve the US transportation system and vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology that helps cars avoid obstacles and accidents through better awareness of the surrounding environment. The government will use the first six months of 2016 to create a nationwide framework for the “safe development and operation” of fully autonomous vehicles. Creating a single, unified set of national safety standards should help streamline the development of autonomous cars.
Making It Easier For Automakers To Build Autonomous Vehicles
The DOT will also propose rule changes over the next six months that will make it easier for car makers to install autonomous driving features in their vehicles and will draft model legislation that could be used by various states to make it easier to introduce automated vehicles.
The problems are real and acute. Secretary Foxx said, “In the future, 75 percent of the US population will be concentrated in 11 ‘mega regions.’ We are on course for a future where congestion will only get worse.”
The government asserts autonomous vehicles can eliminate many road fatalities. Autonomous cars could have saved 25,000 lives last year if they had been in use already.
Advances in autonomous vehicles are happening rapidly. GM, Ford Motor Co, Honda, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Nissan and Hyundai are actively working on autonomous driving. This prompted the Department of Transportation to release a policy statement that read, in part:
The rapid development of emerging automation technologies means that partially and fully automated vehicles are nearing the point at which widespread deployment is feasible. Essential to the safe deployment of such vehicles is a rigorous testing regime that provides sufficient data to determine safety performance and help policymakers at all levels make informed decisions about deployment.
Auto executives are keenly aware of this. A few months ago, the CEO of Volvo said that his company could not conduct “credible” autonomous car tests given the separate standards in place in different states. The government hopes provide clarity by investing $4 billion to unify the standards across states.
Driver Input Missing From Autonomous Vehicles Discussion
What’s missing from the discussion, however, is the degree to which people are actually comfortable with the idea of autonomous cars being on the road. Drivers, at least initially, may be more comfortable with more limited forms of autonomy
Google self-driving cars have logged 1.3 million miles worth of testing. The tech giant recently filed a report to the California Department of Motor Vehicles showing that its autonomous cars had to return control to the company’s human test drivers around 340 times between September 2014 and November 2015, for reasons like technology failure or related to the vehicle’s safe operation. It will be disconcerting to some drivers that the company most proficient with self-driving cars still hasn’t perfected the process yet.
The stakes are high for automakers. Fully autonomous vehicles will account for 10 percent of global vehicle sales by 2035, a report by the Boston Consulting Group predicts.
The DOT said it was working with automakers to develop common technical standards for autonomous cars and for vehicles-to-vehicle communication.
Secretary Foxx believes to make transportation more efficient and sustainable requires bold investments. The first tranche of money will be in fiscal 2017 budget that the White House will release in February. The balance of the money will be allocated over the next 10 years.
With the Obama Administration’s backing, automakers will have the support and guidelines they need to make a fully autonomous vehicles future a reality.