The American government is officially putting a giant vote of confidence behind self-driving cars. And the cash to back it up. The US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is announcing a nearly $US4 ($6) billion plan that will help manufacturers and tech companies develop safe, automated vehicles in the next ten years with real-world pilot projects. It's all part of President Obama's plan to make American transportation as futuristic as possible.
The funds, which have been set aside in the proposed federal budget for 2017, will go toward pilot programs in specific transportation corridors in the US. The government will then work with industry leaders to kick the development of automated vehicles into high gear. The goal is to make sure that those robo-cars are safe, and that American infrastructure is ready for them.
Secretary Foxx will revealed the huge game-changer at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this afternoon with Ford, Google, Delphi and others. In a statement from the Department of Transportation, he said this about the plan:
"We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people. Today's actions and those we will pursue in the coming months will provide the foundation and the path forward for manufacturers, state officials, and consumers to use new technologies and achieve their full safety potential."
Secretary Foxx's announcement will also update the policy guidance on self-driving vehicles developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013. This is crucial as it now points to autonomous vehicles as a valuable tool for creating safer streets and highways.
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said today:
"NHTSA is using all of its available tools to accelerate the deployment of technologies that can eliminate 94 per cent of fatal crashes involving human error. We will work with state partners toward creating a consistent national policy on these innovations, provide options now and into the future for manufacturers seeking to deploy autonomous vehicles, and keep our safety mission paramount at every stage."
How will this change start to roll out? Within the first six months of 2016, the US government will hit two major milestones.
First, the NHTSA will collaborate with the industry to finalise guidelines for "safe deployment and operation of autonomous vehicles," plus state partners, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators on the state level that can help guide a consistent framework on the national level.
Next, to accommodate the folks on the engineering side, Secretary Foxx wants manufacturers to submit "rule interpretation requests" so that the technology aligns with the law. The Department of Transportation points to one example of when BMW inquired about the company's remote self-parking system, and whether it met federal safety standards.
Self-driving cars are headed to American roads, ready or not.