US pledges $5.7b to put self-driving cars on road

A Kia electric vehicle in autonomous driving mode during a test run. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the government expects to issue guidance to firms within six months on what functions an autonomous vehicle must be able to perform to
A Kia electric vehicle in autonomous driving mode during a test run. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the government expects to issue guidance to firms within six months on what functions an autonomous vehicle must be able to perform to be deemed safe.PHOTO:EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

It aims to speed up development and will remove hurdles for manufacturers

DETROIT • American federal regulators have said the government is proposing to invest US$4 billion (S$5.7 billion) over the next decade to accelerate development of autonomous vehicles and will remove hurdles for manufacturers racing to put self-driving cars on the road.

The announcement, made on Thursday by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at the North American International Auto Show, reflects how quickly carmakers and technology firms are moving towards building such cars.

"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," said Mr Foxx, who was joined at the event by representatives from carmakers and tech giants like Google.

He said the government expects to issue guidance to firms within six months on what functions an autonomous vehicle must be able to perform to be considered safe.

The US$4 billion, which will be in the administration's new Budget, is to be used for research, pilot programmes and infrastructure improvements, he said. Also, the government has the authority to allow the deployment of up to 2,500 autonomous vehicles for each firm for a two-year period.

Mr Foxx also urged firms to seek interpretations of vehicle standards from regulators for new technologies under development. The moves are part of a broader effort by regulators to help the car industry and tech firms move forward with new technologies.

"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 full safety potential," he said.

He added that the initiative will help reduce traffic congestion and improve road safety.

"We are on course for a future where congestion will only get worse," said Mr Foxx, adding that in the future, 75 per cent of the United States population will be concentrated in 11 "mega regions".

The US Department of Transportation (DoT) is proposing that some funds be made available to local governments to develop the kind of infrastructure needed to increase the effectiveness of vehicle- to-vehicle communication. Such an infrastructure can give drivers up-to-the-minute information on traffic conditions.

Mr John Krafcik, who heads Google Cars, welcomed the government effort, saying that to implement these changes "you need to have a clear path and guard rails and DoT is offering to provide that".

General Motors executive vice- president for vehicle development Mark Reuss said he believes the initiative will help carmakers as they move into an area where the technology is evolving rapidly.

GM, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai and Kia have all said they are actively working on autonomous driving.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'US pledges $5.7b to put self-driving cars on road'. Print Edition | Subscribe