Obama Administration Announces $4 Billion Fund For Self-Driving Car Development


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

680 Obama Administration Announces $4 Billion Fund For Self-Driving Car Development
Will cars like Tesla's Roadster be able to self-drive within the next decade? Olga Besnard/Shutterstock

The race is on to bring driverless cars to the market, and thanks to the Obama Administration's recently announced $4 billion (£2.8 billion) fund for the fledgling technological field, we might reach this goal sooner than you think.

Autonomous cars are the dream of both Google’s transportation wing and Elon Musk’s brainchild Tesla. Both cars are capable of driving themselves to and from places already, but with some problematic limitations. Google still hasn’t ironed out the moral implications of a traffic accident caused by a self-driving car, for example. Musk recently declared that the technology for a car to self-drive across the North American continent will be in place by 2018, but at present, it can only self-park without human assistance


Safety is also a key issue that both companies are very anxious to address. Anthony Foxx, the Secretary of Transportation, announced in a governmental statement that this new investment will help “accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation through real-world pilot projects.”

The 10-year investment, which will be included as part of the fiscal 2017 budget to be released this February, will focus on creating genuine, practical developments in the field, moving on from proof-of-concept models designed to showcase potential autonomous driving technologies.




Partly autonomous cars are not the focus of the investment; as the statement makes clear, “fully autonomous vehicles, including those designed without a human driver in mind, are deployable in large numbers when they are demonstrated to provide an equivalent or higher level of safety than is now available.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines five levels of vehicle automation. At zero, the driver has complete control of the vehicle, whereas at four, the vehicle has control of all functions, whether or not the driver is present. The investment will aim to produce those operating at level four.

Creating a unified set of safety rules and guards across the U.S. will also be a priority, although each state can set individual policies. The CEO of Volvo recently said that his company could not yet conduct credible car tests as each company had its own set of guidelines. Along with Ford, Google, Tesla and Mercedes, Volvo will surely welcome the new initiative.

As reported by The Verge, John Krafcik, the head of Google’s self-driving car program, reacted positively to the announcement. “We're also very excited that there's clearly an indication of the potential safety benefits associated with the technology. That's what is driving our mission at Google, and it's wonderful to have that validation from the secretary in Washington today.”


Part of this framework involves a limit of 2,500 autonomous cars on the road for up to two years to conduct extensive safety tests. The Department of Transportation notes, however, that these cars would not be free-roaming, but instead relegated to specified “corridors” in which they are allowed to drive. These would presumably cover many cross-country highways, given the ambitious tone of the statement. 

[H/T: Motherboard]


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