Tuesday, President Obama took a quick trip across the Potomac to visit the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, a facility in McLean, Virginia, that focuses on highway technologies that help make driving safer and smarter.
The main emphasis of his remarks was aimed at Congress's continued inaction on highway and infrastructure funding, but he also talked about nvesting in new infrastructure technologies.
Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) members and staff joined the president, who toured the research and testing facility and delivered remarks on the importance of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication technology for improving safety and mobility and reducing wasted time and fuel on our nation’s roads.
Obama described how connected vehicle technology will prevent crashes from happening in the first place.
"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 with each other," he said. "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 time and gas. And I got to test all this in a simulator. It was sort of like Knight Rider," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd, which continued when he pointed out that he hasn't exactly done much of his own driving the past six years.
"Now, as the father of a daughter who just turned 16, any new technology that makes driving safer is important to me. And new technology that makes driving smarter is good for the economy. One study shows that Americans spend 5.5 billion hours stuck in traffic each year, which costs us $120 billion in wasted time and gas -- that's 800 bucks per commuter. Then you’ve got outdated roads and bridges that mean businesses pay an extra $27 billion in freight costs, which are then passed on to consumers.
"So, all told, transportation eats up more of the typical family’s household budget than anything except the rent or a mortgage -- which means that the cutting-edge research that all of you are doing here helps save lives and save money, and leads to new jobs and new technologies and new industries. And that’s why America has to invest more in the kind of job-creating research and development that you’re doing right here at the Highway Research Center."
ITS America President and CEO Scott Belcher said his group was “thrilled" about the president's visit. “Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technology represents the next giant leap in automotive safety, providing the ability for cars to ‘talk’ to each other and the world around them to avoid crashes," Belcher said in a statement following the event.
"And we’re not just talking about cars talking to other cars but about cars talking to bikes, trucks talking to motorcycles, buses talking to pedestrians, and even traffic signals communicating with vehicles to help prevent crashes and reduce traffic tie-ups."
Earlier this month in Germany, Daimler Trucks demonstrated commercial truck technologies that would allow a truck to basically drive itself on the highway. It uses a combination of radar sensors at the front and sides of the truck, a stereo camera behind the windshield, three-dimensional maps and V2V/V2I communication (vehicle to vehicle/vehicle to infrastructure), which is the exchange of information between the truck and other vehicles and with the roadway.
And on our own shores in May, Peloton Technology demonstrated a two-truck platooning system, which makes use of a forward collision avoidance system and vehicle-to-vehicle communication to allow two trucks to travel closer together than would normally be safe.
And, of course, you've no doubt heard of Google's driverless car.
These types of technologies are not science fiction. However, seeing wide adoption of them will hinge not on technology, but on factors such as cost, public acceptance, privacy and liability issues. After all, who's responsible when two Google cars get in a crash?
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