There have been many interesting developments recently when it comes to the evolution of self-driving cars and the technology that will be needed to ensure their safe implementation. President Obama mentioned the transportation industry, and specifically, the movement toward electric and away from fossil fuels, during his State of the Union address in January. To solidify these plans, the president outlined a $4 billion investment in self-driving cars over 10 years to accelerate the process of merging the latest technology and clean energy solutions into the cars of tomorrow.
The president’s brief mention of the need to be less reliant on fossil fuels just highlights some of the recent developments in the industry, many of which are indicative of a renewed focus and commitment to clean energy and transportation safety. In this blog post, we’ll look at the events of the past year to see what changes have occurred–and what changes lie ahead–for new technology, smart cars, and a dedicated plan for clean energy in transportation.
Where We Are; News & Developments From 2015
The transport industry saw some important developments in 2015, especially in terms of integrating a long-term plan for safety and energy efficiency. Two important programs, Beyond Traffic and the Smart City Challenge, were put into place by Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx. On the heels of these two programs, the Paris Climate Talks put forth an actionable plan with scientifically backed goals to be integrated by 2020.
The Beyond Traffic program was started in Feb. 2015 with the idea of starting a dialogue between operators, policy makers, and the public. There were no rules or regulations tied to the Beyond Traffic program; it was simply designed to start a conversation around the issues of transportation in certain areas, particularly those regions projected to be most affected by population growth.
The meat of the program is in the 30-year transportation framework, which aims to create a national discussion that will have U.S. transportation systems, and how to improve them, as the centerpiece of the dialogue. In the video below, you can learn more about the 11 mega-regions which are expected to be the most affected areas of the U.S. between now and 2045.
The Smart City Challenge is another program developed under the direction of Foxx and was launched in December 2015. Building on the reports from the Beyond Traffic program, the goal of the Smart City Challenge is to encourage cities to incorporate data and technology to improve safety, efficiency, and reduce environmental impact.
The challenge includes a contest between cities, for which the winner will be awarded up to $40 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Competing cities must submit their plans by Feb. 4 with the finalists being announced in March.
The Paris Climate Talks, which were held in Nov. and Dec. of 2015, established some firm guidelines and goals for the worldwide transport industry for the first time. (You can read more about the details in a previous blog post by clicking here.) Though the terms of the plan will not be fully put in place until 2020, it does call for regular collaborative meetings by world leaders every five years.
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$4 Billion Investment In Vehicle Safety Technology
After President Obama spelled out a plan for moving more quickly toward implementing safety innovations into the transport industry, the National Highway Safety Administration made it official in early 2016. As part of the president’s budget proposal, several billion dollars will be invested into vehicle safety in the coming years.
The investment will take place over the next 10 years and include input from state governments, as well as the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). Working together with state legislatures and the AAMVA, the NHTSA aims to develop both state and national vehicle safety regulations.
Part of the plan is to remove certain obstacles that might hinder automakers in their attempts to incorporate new technology and safety features. For this purpose, car manufacturers may be granted exemptions that allow for trials and safety tests.
A key component in moving toward a modern, sustainable system of transportation, is the full integration of autonomous (self-driving) vehicles; something which is a focal point of the investment. In light of recently failed legislation proposals and electric vehicle usage goals, the plan for a 21st-century system is a welcome sign, both for consumers and those working within the industry.
Companies like Google and Tesla (and possibly Apple) are already testing the waters with self-driving vehicles. Elon Musk has said that a Tesla will be able to drive itself within two years. Google’s Self Driving Car Project already has prototypes zipping around their headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Apple CEO Tim Cook has also made references to his belief that autonomous driving is the future of personal transportation.
Along with a dramatic rise in population that is expected to increase day-to-day traffic in major metro areas, a significant increase–estimates put it around 50%–in freight cargo will come along with it. Both of these issues have been looming as potential problem areas in the future of transportation and the events of the past year have signaled a major push in the direction of addressing them in terms of safety, efficiency, and environmental responsibility.
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