Dean C. Garfield photo
Driving into the Autonomous Vehicle Future

On the surface, the way I drive my girls to school today is no different than how my parents drove me to school 45 years ago. However, everything about transportation has changed in recent decades and we are poised to see within the next 5 years an even more dramatic transformation of how Americans commute to work, travel long distances, and transport goods. Cars today can drive themselves, use sensors and monitors to ensure passenger safety, and are much friendlier to the environment. These tune-ups and upgrades all fit within the technology sector’s vision for the future of transportation, which is one of zero accidents, mobility for all, environmental sustainability, reduced congestion, and increased efficiency.

If you visit the Washington Auto Show this week, you will see that 2018 is shaping up to be the year where autonomous vehicles (AV) go from being something you read about to something you may use for your daily commute. The technology is here. Fully driverless AVs are being tested on roads today. The next phase of mass deployment is not far away. The necessary high computational performance chips, sensors, software, and machine learning technologies are being delivered today such that the expectation is that we will see mass production of autonomous cars within the next 2 years.

The potential benefits of greater deployment of AVs are significant. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 93 percent of all accidents are caused by human error, a statistic autonomous vehicles could mitigate by as much as 90 percent. In fact, in the United States, if only 10 percent of vehicles were self-driving, we could save the lives of an estimated 1,100 people in traffic-related incidents.

In addition, AV provide an important economic opportunity. A recent Intel/Strategy Analytics study predicts that by 2050 $7 trillion in value will be added to the global economy, with $2 billion occurring in the United States. Those numbers are driven by a reduction in accidents, increased productivity from reduced congestion, fuel costs savings, and the opportunity for a broader array of people to move around and otherwise participate in the economy.

If we are to achieve these potential benefits, we must move quickly to put in place the pillars on which we will build success. First, as we continue to perfect this transformative technology, ensuring safety and building consumer trust is of utmost importance. As a father, I understand that these vehicles carry life’s most precious cargo and that’s a responsibility we in the tech industry don’t take lightly. Tech’s leading companies are validating safety algorithms, mapping roads, and conducting user experience research to enable the safe and trusted transition to self-driving vehicles.

Second, we must begin preparing the workforce for AV. These technologies and new modes of transportation will create new jobs, but those occupations are likely to be different from the jobs of today. Thus, we must take steps to both train the workforce of the future to meet the skills demand while also preparing the nearly 4 million people who work as professional drivers for new, productive employment. We have time to do so if we begin today.

Finally, to seize the benefits of AV we must begin building 21st-century infrastructure. Specifically, as we rebuild our bridges and roads we will need to build out broadband, deploy sensors, and utilize other “smart” technologies. For example, “smart” road signs that are machine-readable will allow for improved GPS capabilities and provide real-time traffic data updates that will reduce congestion.

As we look forward to the advancement of autonomous vehicles and realize the societal benefits of this transformative technology, the tech industry looks forward to working with policymakers to create a policy environment that ensures safety while allowing innovation to flourish.

Public Policy Tags: Internet of Things, Skills/STEM