Technology that will enable self-driving cars got some high-level publicity yesterday when U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech about the nation’s transportation infrastructure at the federal government's Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Va.
“I just got a tour of a lab where automakers and government researchers team up to create new technologies that help cars communicate with the world around them and each other,” said Obama, referring to wireless vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication technology. “They can tell you if an oncoming vehicle is about to run a red light, or if a car is coming around a blind corner, or if a detour would help you save some time and [fuel].”
Government and academic researchers, in collaboration with automakers, are testing methods for getting cars to talk to each other and are hurrying to make cars capable of “talking” ahead of the planned introduction of federal regulations that would require all new cars produced after 2017 to feature V2V and V2I technology.
In a statement, the White House noted that the researchers have already completed two rounds of testing, including a pilot study involving 3,000 cars, trucks, and buses in “a highly concentrated environment of vehicles ‘talking’ to each other.”
The president said he got to test the latest iteration of this technology in a simulator [pictured above] that he said gave him a sense of what it would have been like to be behind the wheel of KITT, the talking-and-self-driving car in the old TV show “Knight Rider.”
In addition to the coolness factor of talking cars, Obama extolled the economic and safety benefits. “New technology that makes driving smarter is good for the economy,” he said. Obama cited a recent study that says Americans spend 5.5 billion hours stuck in traffic each year, at a cost of $120 billion in lost productivity and wasted fuel.
And in a reminder that he’s not only the nation’s chief executive but also a dad, he said, “As the father of a daughter who just turned 16, any new technology that makes driving safer is important to me.”
On a related note, Obama made it a point to tell the audience that transportation projects of all kinds would be placed in jeopardy if Congress failed to allocate funds for the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The legislative body avoided the brinksmanship that characterized last year’s government shutdown, voting to allocate enough money to the trust fund to keep it solvent through next spring.