U.S. Department of Energy Wants to Get Into the Self-Driving Car Business

Photo: Getty Images

One week after Google made a splash with a demo of the latest iteration of its self-driving cars, we learned about the company’s plans to produce a limited number of custom-built prototypes with no steering wheels or control pedals. Right on its heels came news that California plans to issue driver’s licenses to experimental self-driving cars.

What didn’t garner as much attention was the banal side of the equation: a seemingly small change in U.S. federal government rules that could end up having a tremendous impact on the further development of the self-driving car. Last Thursday, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz told the Detroit News that in response to inquiries from companies doing autonomous vehicle research, the qualifications for getting a loan via the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program have been amended to include makers of driverless cars.

Moniz demurred when asked about a timetable for new disbursements from the high risk/reward program that has roughly $16 billion to lend. Though the program has a stellar track record—with notable successes including Elon Musk’s electric vehicle startup Tesla Motors—the government tightened its grip on the purse strings after Solyndra, another of the program’s recipients, went bankrupt in 2011.

If the current trend, with Google getting maximum governmental cooperation, persists, Google and its ilk will find a way to loosen those purse strings when the companies are ready to make the transition from using their own cash on experimental vehicles to getting government backing for, say, a limited number of custom-built prototypes.

Advertisement

Cars That Think

IEEE Spectrum’s blog about the sensors, software, and systems that are making cars smarter, more entertaining, and ultimately, autonomous.
Contact us:  p.ross@ieee.org

Senior Editor
Philip E. Ross
New York City
Assistant Editor
Willie D. Jones
New York City
 
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Berkeley, Calif.
Contributor
Lucas Laursen
Madrid
 

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Cars That Think newsletter and get biweekly updates, all delivered directly to your inbox.

Advertisement