DARPA Autonomous Vehicle Research And Self-Driving Cars

Home of DARPA

Aerial view of The Pentagon, home of DARPA

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been on the cutting edge of innovating homeland security since the age of Sputnik, but the DARPA autonomous vehicle research is prompting a collaboration among different industries committed to changing how consumers (not just the military) travel in the decades to come.

As soon as the Russian satellite, Sputnik, was launched in 1957, the United States was on high alert. It is that momentous event that led to the creation of one of the most innovative agencies in the Federal government, thanks to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which, at the time simply went by Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) —the “D” wouldn’t be added until 1972—was assembled to push America to be leaders of strategic technologies rather than play catch-up. In the decades since its inception, DARPA has gone on to influence and initiate projects that have moved homeland security forward in unique and singular ways as well as establishing benchmark technologies that forever changed the face of the world. Recently, DARPA autonomous vehicle research laid the groundwork for the self-driving cars that are creating a new way of consumer travel across a variety of key industries, and thanks to them, momentum is building.

A government agency on the cutting edge

From the day it was created in 1958, DARPA has been pushing the boundaries of technology and innovation. It initiated rocket research that same year and turned over the information it gathered to create the Television and Infrared Observation Satellites (TIROS) Program to NASA in 1959, which would become the basis for today’s global weather forecasting, reporting and researching by the Department of Defense (DoD), NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAO).

DARPA’s purpose

While the agency’s focus is and always has been national security and the technologies developed are heavily military and government based, DARPA’s overarching goal is to push technology forward in a global sense. The group has been instrumental in the advancement of some of the most critical innovations and technologically advanced inventions in the world. Among these are the internet—which began life as ARPAnet back in the 1960s—the GPS and the computer mouse.

DARPA is constantly changing and innovating, never staying with one team for too long in order to remain nimble and fresh. Part of that fluidity is to create access to its tools for universities, industries and small businesses in addition to the armed forces. The agency’s goal is to constantly move forward by addressing real world concerns, strategically and practically. While the bulk of its research is centered around defending the country and creating better ways to arm and support the military, DARPA makes its technologies and findings available across all manner of divisions—universities, small businesses, industry and the public—as well as encouraging input and proposals from those same communities. In the words of the organization’s website, DARPA “works within an innovation ecosystem that includes academic, corporate and governmental partners, with a constant focus on the Nation’s military Services, which work with DARPA to create new strategic opportunities and novel tactical options.”

And that is where the role of DARPA autonomous vehicle research in the creation of the self-driving car comes in.

The story of The Grand Challenges

In the early 2000s, Congress gave DARPA a mandate—implement unmanned vehicles into the military by 2015. Making actual working self-driving cars and transportation had been a quest since the days of Leonardo da Vinci and while the unmanned Mars Exploration Rovers from NASA would be launched in 2003, nothing sustainable for broader, everyday use had come to fruition as yet. To successfully pursue DARPA autonomous vehicle research, the agency felt it needed to do something more than go through the usual internal swirling of ideas or discovery process. This whole idea of pushing the boundaries of autonomous vehicle technology required inspiring and pushing the envelope in a wholly unique way. DARPA did this by creating a contest and inviting a variety of great minds to use their skills and imagination to come up with different solutions from which to choose the best possible features. The organization asked for and received Congressional approval for the event and sent out a broad net to the academic and engineering community to participate. This became a seminal moment in the self-driving car movement.

The First Grand Challenge

On July 30, 2002, DARPA took over The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, attracting hundreds of techies and observers, to announce The First DARPA Grand Challenge. The object of the contest was to create an autonomous robotic vehicle that could complete an as-yet-to-be-determined 150-200 mile course between Los Angeles and Las Vegas for a $1 million prize. The terrain was to reflect the desert conditions of places like Fallujah where U.S. troops were engaging in combat. By the time of the actual challenge on March 13, 2004, 15 vehicles of the original 21 qualifiers were deemed road ready on a 142-mile gruelling course across the Mojave Desert between Barstow, California and just across the border of Nevada in Primm. All of the finalists used a combination of sensors, robotics and cameras to make their dream of an autonomous ground vehicle a reality. Unfortunately, out of those that ran the course, the furthest any of them got was the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Red Team car, which traveled 7.4 miles of the course. A successful robotic car would remain elusive and the prize money unclaimed.

The Second Grand Challenge

Photo by DARPA via Wikimedia Commons

Stanford Red Team, “Stanley,” winner of the Second Grand Challenge

But neither DARPA nor the contestants were daunted. The agency was heartened by the commitment shown by the different participants and announced the Second DARPA Grand Challenge a day later. This time it was to be a 132-mile course to be run, once again, through the Mojave Desert in the Autumn of 2005 with a prize of $2 million to the winning crew. Teams took what they learned in the first challenge and reworked their vehicles, incorporating various sensors, cameras and more to prepare. 195 teams entered and 5 successfully finished with Stanford University’s Red Team winning with their “Stanley” robotic car and earning the prize money. Now that the academic, engineering and tech community had shown a proficiency with navigating the difficult desert terrain outlined in the course, DARPA put its mind around how to encourage autonomous vehicle innovation on city streets.

The DARPA Urban Challenge

Carnegie Melon’s Tartan team wins DARPA Urban Challenge. Photo by Rob NREC via Wikimedia Commons

The third robotic vehicle challenge was conducted in 2007 and called The DARPA Urban Challenge. The call to action now required driverless vehicles to be able to navigate a complicated course on a staged environment in Victorville, California in which they would need to move through traffic and obstacles while obeying California traffic laws. Again, the prize money was $2 million. 11 teams entered and 6 finished. The “Tartan Racing” team from Carnegie Mellon University placed in first, taking the prize money and all that had been learned through each challenge to start serious research on making self-driving cars a reality for all.

Influencing unmanned vehicle innovation for all

These races sparked the imaginations of the engineering and automotive community in an expansive way. Virginia Tech, one of the finalists in the urban challenge, went on to collaborate with TORC, a company founded by alumni of the Virginia Tech robotics department, to create Grand Unmanned Support Surrogates (GUSS) for the U.S. Marine Corps. The autonomous ground vehicle is designed for mass casualty evacuations from combat/compromised areas, re-supplying of and carrying heavy loads for troops. Per a 2015 article written by Chris Urmson for the National Academy of Engineering, DARPA’s challenges threw down a gauntlet to the engineering community as a whole to take the innovation inspired by and lessons learned from the grand challenges and bring them to life in the real world. According to Urmson, technology used to develop consumer based autonomous features—LIDAR, radar, camera—were those overarching tools used to meet the DARPA Grand Challenges. While the purpose of these contests was to push forward engineering to meet the Congressional mandate for self-driving cars in the military by 2015, the benefits have been much farther reaching.

In the world of the military, unmanned is not the same as autonomous. Many of the unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) created are remote controlled or tele-operated. However, these machines can get into spots and deal with sensitive situations, such as the active mine removal capability of the Abrams Panther and small space surveillance with the urban robot (URBOT) also known as Urbie, without endangering the lives of soldiers. But, autonomous ground vehicles are making their way out of the armed forces and into the consumer world on a large scale. This is all thanks to the imagination and creativity DARPA autonomous vehicle research inspired and pushed forward with its grand challenges. The urban challenge, in particular, opened up a doorway to seeing how the world of self-driving cars could have everyday implications.

The role of DARPA autonomous vehicle research in the military

Since the first three grand challenges, DARPA has pursued a robotics challenge, a cyber-challenge and is currently ruminating over what next to present to the scientific/technology/engineering community. But the DARPA autonomous vehicle research inspiration has gone far beyond unmanned ground vehicles and the driverless car.

By U.S. Navy, Photo by John Williams

Sea Hunter, the DARPA supported ACTUV

As part of the agency’s focus on anti-submarine warfare (ASW), it has created the ACTUV or Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel. Its role is to quietly track diesel powered enemy subs through miles of sea for long periods of time without a single crew person aboard. With everything DARPA autonomous vehicle research has prompted, the word “vehicle” is far-reaching and addressing all of the areas that are sensitive to homeland security—land, sea, air and space.

Among these are unmanned aerial vehicles like the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN), a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft system that provides consistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) that can engage mobile targets anywhere around the world anytime of the day or night. There is also the dual purpose Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES), which is part of the Transformer TX program. It’s capable of traveling by air and land. It can drop supplies from the air to specific points as well as extract soldiers and casualties from combat zones. But it can also drive on land. It is part of the Vehicle Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Skunk Works project with Lockheed Aircraft and others.

By DARPA via Wikimedia Commons

An artist’s rendering of the HTV-2 in flight

In the realm of space, beyond the unmanned transporters to Mars, there have been the hypersonic technology vehicles (HTV) created through the Falcon project. Both the HTV-1 and the HTV-2 were tested then scrapped, but enough research was compiled to push forward other potential uses and ways to lower costs. These two vessels were unmanned spacecraft that could function without crew and gather information and drop supplies at space stations. Now working under the name of the Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) program, these types of vehicles are being considered with the parameters of cost efficiency, feasibility and effectiveness.

Drones are certainly among those unmanned vehicles to be counted as one of the things DARPA’s research has inspired. These small, economical surveillance and delivery systems serve a variety of purposes and have already infiltrated civilian life, for fun and business. But the focus now is on making it possible for UGV’s to transport human beings on a grand scale—the autonomous car and beyond—both in combat and day-to-day life.

DARPA of tomorrow

What the world of tomorrow looks like is anybody’s guess, but DARPA’s role as a leader in advanced technology for homeland security and consumer use is something the organization hopes to maintain. It has a far-reaching grasp on a variety of inventions and research is constant.

As we look ahead to unmanned transport, what DARPA has done to promote the autonomous vehicle technology most of us know today is vast. The Grand Challenges alone created an extraordinary renaissance in self-driving cars and pushed forward highly beneficial unmanned ground, air and sea vessels in the military that have implications for commercial and consumer use. While the agency has become less of a player in the tech world than in its earlier days due to the advances made in Silicon Valley and how DARPA’s initial innovations were made available to so many companies, universities and organizations, the goal has always been to inspire broader growth and forward movement that has global value in addition to protecting the U.S. It is what makes this agency such a unique player on the government stage. Its organizational make up and work practices have prompted countless organizations to imitate them, because the amount of progress made within DARPA is unparalleled. It is a highly influential agency that is as creative as it is regimented. Remaining fluid and nimble is key to its continued success and as the world of the autonomous car becomes even bigger, DARPA will keep in step and, frequently, lead the way.

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m-Government: The Path from Electronic to Mobile

the bridge from e to m-Government

You access any number of government processes via the internet these days. From eFiling taxes to renewing car registration, electronic government or eGovernment is streamlining some of the most time-consuming public transactions. But this paperless solution only succeeds for those people who can get to a computer. What about those who can’t? This is where mobile government or m-Government comes in.

Embarking on the new frontier of m-Government

We are a mobile society. 1.9 billion people or approximately 25 percent of the world’s population own a smartphone or tablet or both. That number is expected to climb to 70 percent by 2020. This steep increase is due to several reasons. The first and most obvious is the desire and ability to stay connected with whomever, whenever. Mobile devices have become economic tools for many as well, allowing them to pay bills, purchase items and check balances on the go. It’s also easier to purchase a cellphone than a computer for many people. But what also makes mobile so appealing is the convenience and ability to conduct business or manage your affairs anytime anywhere. These mobile devices are a global way of connecting and their use is growing. With that comes the expectation of apps that make life easier and more efficient. The ability to create anytime access to eGovernment service is part of what has led to m-Government.

Committed to government app development

the potential information shared through m-Government

Creating apps that allow you to access the public sector is increasing. Governments are discovering that presenting an easier way to engage with their constituents makes it better for the users. It also ensures transparency between public agencies and residents. That encouragement for more open and honest communication and availability of government services comes not only from private citizens, but from lawmakers. Two examples of this are the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the federal government run General Services Administration (GSA).

UAE rewarding government innovation

The UAE is in its 4th cycle of presenting the Best M-Government Services Awards. These were created by Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 2013 in order to reward those agencies best embracing m-Government. His vision of “making government available and accessible to the public 24/7 and 365 days a year” prompted the competition that kicks off in late October and announces winners at the World Government Summit in February. The contest is open to app developers worldwide to promote creating a more connected, efficient system for the public sector in the process.

GSA and the road to mobile government

The GSA is a massive resource for U.S. federal agencies and the military. It provides real estate that houses different offices, manages the nation’s fleet of public vehicles and serves as liaison between public-private partnership. One of its goals is to establish an easily accessible m-Government, which it does through its Technology division and the Mobile Program Management Office (Mobile PMO). The Mobile PMO offers m-Government based tools to assist federal agencies in presenting smarter public service to citizens. The division pursues this expansion on a national level. It supports different ways of applying mobile technology and even provides assistance to federal agencies in testing and creating their apps.

As part of this digital initiative, the agency has established 18F, which is an office within the GSA’s Technology Transformation Service. The name is a play on where the GSA is located–18 & F Street NW in Washington, D.C. Its purpose is to help “other federal agencies build, buy, and share efficient and easy-to-use digital services.” While its focus isn’t just mobile, 18F provides API key assistance to its clients. API stands for “application programming interfaces.” Basically, this is a way for different apps to communicate. API keys then then make it possible for apps to connect with your account without a password. This is an integral gateway to m-Government services. When government offices use API keys, they are then able to unlock a way to interface with a website’s information on different platforms, including mobile.

Unique opportunity for road and vehicle safety apps

Through the work of Sheikh bin Rashid of the UAE, the Mobile PMO of the GSA and others, the world is evolving its eGovernment service to include a more readily accessible experience via mobile technologies. Consequently, some of the most beneficial m-Government apps are those that support road and vehicle safety. Due to the transient nature of cars, the public sector has seen these as a natural connection to offering easy ways to access road and vehicle information. These are created to alleviate congestion, and make your drive/ride safer and easier. Here are four examples of global based transportation apps:

Hong Kong–promoting inclusion, information sharing and culture

m-Government communication in Hong Kong

The state of Hong Kong offers a rather extensive list of publicly supported apps that address a variety of m-Government needs. These range from providing new, non-native residents with information that makes navigating Chinese society easier to highlighting the life and achievements of martial arts legend, Bruce Lee. Among the transport apps are those that focus on three of the most important ground travel issues in Hong Kong–mass transit, parking for private cars, and traffic updates. Hong Kong streets are notoriously congested and these apps are alleviating the issues the city faces.

UAE–putting their vision to practice

m-Government comes alive in the UAE

As one of the leaders pursuing and promoting m-Government practices around the world, the UAE is a strong mobile presence at home, and road and vehicle safety is part of it. The 2015 winner of the University award for the Best of M-Government Services was its own NYU Abu Dhabi for Road Watch, a traffic app. The Federation struggles with a high vehicle fatality rate and it shows in the number of road and auto safety apps it makes available. These cover everything from finding parking spaces to calling up a taxi to making it easy to add money to your Nol Card–a multimodal electronic ticketing card–and Salik tag–the device mounted on the windshield to gain access to the electronic road toll system. The UAE is devoted to a more connected, transparent government and it is constantly developing and encouraging the creation of new apps to support that goal.

United Kingdom and the pursuit of safer roads

m-Government example for the U.K.

The Government of U.K. offers 57 transportation-based mobile apps out of 404 total. Public transit is a large part of the country, which is the focus of most of these–timetables, routes and so forth. There are also a sizable number of downloadables that offer information on areas or roads that have a high collision rate as well as updating on accidents that may be holding up traffic. Vehicle fatalities have increased in the country and this focus reflects the desire to address the situation.

The U.S. takes m-Government federal, state and local

U.S. take on m-Government

U.S. government mobile apps are available at the federal, state and local level. As with the other countries engaged in m-Government, the goal with all of the apps is to streamline processes for residents. It is why certain organizations were created, such as GSA’s Mobile PMO and 18F departments.

To that end, individual states have an information technology advocate in The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). This non-profit organization represents all of the state chief information officers in the United States. It keeps abreast of information technology innovations and how those can best be used to support and challenge the CIOs to push the digital envelope in their home states. Part of its mission is to support and encourage mobile app development across different regions to create a more transparent and seamless process for citizens. Road and automobile apps are a large part of that, especially given the latest report on U.S. traffic fatalities released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the government’s desire to work with autonomous vehicle makers in response.

Whether it’s looking for a nearby alternative fuel station throughout the country (Alternative Fueling Station Locator) or practicing for your commercial driver license test in Wisconsin (WI DMV Commercial Driver License Practice Test), traffic/vehicle-based apps are geared toward arming residents with information that will help them safely navigate the nation’s highways. The range of traffic-based transportation apps are vast in the U.S. and often work in coordination with private companies, especially those at the municipal level.

Open government data for app development

Apps like Citymapper by Citymapper, Ltd. help you navigate and stay up to date with the mass transit systems throughout some of the world’s most complex cities. Hong Kong’s One Click by SAHK teaches social skills to children with developmental disabilities. Both are examples of public-private partnerships in government mobile app development.

Citymapper, Ltd. is a privately owned app development company that works with government agencies to gain access to infrastructure and public transportation information. The Citymapper app covers 40 cities around the world and communicates with users in 12 languages. SAHK’S One Click is available in English, Simplified and Traditional Chinese. It is listed on the Government of Hong Kong mobile apps area under “For Students of Special Educational Needs” and is part of its m-Government directory. These, like many other mobile device interfaces, exist thanks to governments opening up their data to private companies for app development.

This farming out of development helps diversify and expand the public information presented to residents in the most efficient way. The business of government is not in creating digital interfaces, just as tech companies aren’t expected to know everything about enacting policy. By the two partnering, each one gains the benefits of the other’s expertise to develop and offer more user friendly, beneficial information sharing to citizens. This linkage promotes continued app development across a variety of needs, which is the direction the entire world is moving.

The future state of Government 2020

layering on m-Government

Deloitte University Press presents an extensive look at the future of government on its Explore the Future of Government 2020 website. It evaluates future growth across two categories–Drivers and Trends–and how the two combine. Deloitte explains the difference between the two in this way: Drivers are factors “that change the context in which government operates;” Trends are “shifts that result from the drivers of change.” The information presented gives a detailed look at the unique ways these work together to create a different landscape in the next few years. This also includes the area of Transportation and the pivotal role digital and mobile play in the services and systems government offers the public.

A constantly shifting digital landscape

2020 is just a few years away and lawmakers are already realizing mobile’s potential for reaching its citizens and streamlining their lives. M-Government isn’t meant to replace but to link with eGovernment. It’s no longer a question of whether mobile applications will be embraced by public agencies, but how quickly they can be created to address the constantly changing needs of the people they serve.

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Vision Zero: A Call to Life-Saving Automotive Action

example of what Vision Zero hopes to correct

traffic today

The Vision Zero Strategy makes a global promise of zero road deaths and injuries by as early as 2020 in some countries. The shocking rise in traffic fatalities in the U.S. makes broader implementation critical.

On October 5, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that U.S. traffic deaths had reached a crisis level in the first half of 2016. During those first 6 months, fatalities leapt 10.4 percent over last year to 17,775 and counting. The belief is that 2016 will show an even higher number than the 35,200 deaths recorded in 2015, the most fatal year since 2008. This has led to the NHTSA, Federal Highway Administration (FHA), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and National Safety Council (NSC) to band together to create a Road to Zero coalition, a reflection of the Vision Zero Strategy already embraced by governments all over the world.

The commitment of Vision Zero is that there will be no traffic deaths or injuries by a certain year through infrastructure revision, driver education and innovative automotive technologies. What that truly means is more than new roads, smarter drivers and self-driving cars. Vision Zero is a life-change, not a just an infrastructure plan.

The genesis of Vision Zero

Sweden pioneered Vision Zero in 1997 in response to a disturbing disconnect it was noticing – traffic deaths are the only fatalities that are universally deemed acceptable. Human error is usually to blame for such tragedies and there is a general consensus that there’s an inevitability to these mishaps that makes them tolerable. Sweden doesn’t agree for two big reasons. First and foremost, loss of life is unacceptable in any form. Period. Second, placing all of the responsibility on human fallibility and treating it as a given that will never change is just an excuse. Shifting that thinking and looking at it differently changes the outcome – if you can never predict the human factor, then it’s the infrastructure that needs to be smarter to account for it before it can cause an accident. It’s why the basis of Vision Zero is, “In every situation a person might fail. The road system should not.”

Smarter roads are the driving factors behind Vision Zero strategy – task the minds behind these byways to come up with plans and solutions that protect motorists, pedestrians and cyclists from the risks they will encounter when traveling. Zero tolerance for death of any kind is what drives Vision Zero and it is what has led to its general ideals being embraced and encouraged around the world. And although Sweden’s 1997 goal of no traffic deaths and serious injuries has moved from 2020 to 2050, the progress the program has shown in this Scandinavian country is promising and encouraging to others.

The power of nothing

From Norway in 1999 to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in May 2016 and beyond, more and more state, local and federal governments have adopted the principles of Vision Zero as their own. Things are starting slowly with many areas in the U.S. beginning simply with stricter seatbelt laws as well as changing signage to clearly convey that the road is being shared with cyclists and pedestrians. While there has been some resistance due to the focus – make room for alternative modes of mobility to share the road effectively and create less congestion by lowering roadway access rather than broadening it – it has shown to be working, for the most part. A recent article written by Kelsey E. Thomas for the Center for Active Design website points out the benefits of what are called Road Diets, even in the most congested city in America, Los Angeles. It arguably proves that reduction, not expansion, actually does help.

Road Diets are basically street reconfigurations that are meant to change driving patterns to alleviate auto accidents. These systems are something that support what CalTrans discovered and announced earlier this year in regards to how much more congested and dangerous roads have become after adding more lanes.

Moving toward a safer future on the roads has global impact. Cities around the U.S. – San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and San Diego, to name a few – and countries around the world – joining Sweden are Netherlands, U.K., Canada and more – have created action plans for implementing their zero auto fatalities programs. To do so, governments are taking a data-driven approach to strategizing. The information they are gathering shows them both the downsides to current infrastructure as well as highlighting the benefits of innovative solutions. These innovations include such things as the road diets, creating separate and completely detached lanes for both walkers and riders, and showing how certain speed limits are better for pedestrian safety than others. Some of this is in response to the rise in pedestrian fatalities, which were up by an estimated 10 percent in 2015 and account for 15 percent of all traffic deaths.

This active push for road safety also includes supporting the faster incorporation of self-driving cars onto roadways.

Where the smart car meets the road

smarter cars created to meet Vision Zero plans

a connected car’s view of a Vision Zero future

In late September, President Obama announced the federal government’s commitment to autonomous car development – prompted by the NHTSA’s findings of the 35,200 auto fatalities in 2015. This pledge is seen as a safe answer to the issues facing the world’s drivers today, because of the human error issue. In addition, the president and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx both announced the United States’ commitment to the Vision Zero concept on a national scale to coincide with the release of the report highlighting the crisis reached in the first six months of 2016. America has set the year 2046 as the goal for being traffic fatality free. Self-driving vehicles are considered the most viable answer to much of this in addition to a more comprehensive infrastructure built for road safety, not speed.

Connected cars, in general, provide a strong partner in safety with new anti-collision features and automatic pilot assistance. Needless to say, driverless technology is currently designed to be used in tandem with manual driving. In other words, turning on the system and taking your mind off the road completely is not the intent. Due to recent autonomous control accidents, different solutions are being considered in regards to full autonomy.

Volkswagen, for example, has filed a patent that would give drivers more involvement with its self-driving feature. This autonomous system enables the motorist to manually react to a situation without having to completely disengage the autopilot. This is in response to the slew of collisions that have occurred over the last year with current autonomous technology. The German automaker plans to get motorists involved with the controls of their car in order to ensure no accidents occur. And Volvo has answered the “who’s fault is it in a self-driving vehicle accident?” question that has plagued insurance companies. It has declared Volvo will take responsibility in the event of a collision involving one of its automobiles. This comes as no surprise considering Volvo’s partnership with Sweden’s Vision Zero strategy and how instrumental it is in its continued growth.

Envisioning a zero future

Vision Zero view of a pedestrian safe world

The announcement on October 5 was an eye-opening call to action that has set many new wheels in motion and highlighted plans already in progress. It shines a brighter light on an issue that has been a problem since the advent of the car. The world has been seeking ways to make a mobile world more accessible to all by making it safer since before Garrett Morgan’s first patent of the traffic light in 1923. The history of automobile legislation is full of incremental innovations that strive for better infrastructure and more user- and pedestrian-friendly vehicles. From rethinking the way we design our roads to evaluating speed limits in consideration of pedestrian safety, protecting ourselves on the roads requires a look at what, not just who, needs to change for a traffic fatality-free future.

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Automated Vehicles and the Government: Connecting Through DOT

connecting automated vehicles and the American governmentOn September 19, 2016, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) is implementing policies to regulate and support the manufacturing and street readiness of automated vehicles. This giant leap forward comes after several meetings with industry professionals, public input forums and consultations with tech companies. Called the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy, the 116-page plan offers four key points of focus and a 15-point safety assessment that gives guidelines for manufacturers to follow.

Unique preparation for a new world of automated vehicles

This forward movement on automated vehicles is new for government. Traditionally, regulations and auto legislation are put into effect after market penetration of a new technology. It is a reactive, not a proactive, process. The way the current policy is rolling out is very different and something DOT and federal lawmakers are specifically highlighting in their current announcement. The desire is to encourage and manage appropriate innovation in the automotive sector to ensure the technology is safe. And safety is the No. 1 reason for this collaborative effort between lawmakers and the automated vehicle community.

Last year, out of 35,200 car-related deaths, 94 percent were due to human error. As Secretary Foxx shares in his statement, “Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken.”

Secretary Foxx goes on to add, “This policy is an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.” It is a framework that innovators can follow as they are in process, rather than having to backtrack to play catch-up.

President Obama weighed in on the federal government’s decision with an OpEd piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He touches on the issues of safety, but also on providing mobility for those who no longer have it. “And right now, for too many senior citizens and Americans with disabilities, driving isn’t an option. Automated vehicles could change their lives,” the president wrote.

A vision of tomorrow realized today

visionofthefuture

As President Obama points out, the technology and innovation behind automated vehicles have already gone from sci-fi fantasy to fast-moving reality. The potential benefits are huge, but so are the dangers if government doesn’t help mitigate those risks and support companies as they seek to eliminate them. However, the goal is not to over-regulate, but to work in tandem with these technological achievements. It is the reason why the policy is meant to be flexible and allow for growth as the industry grows and changes.

But as excited as the administration and DOT are about the potential of automated vehicles, the president is adamant about one thing, “And make no mistake: If a self-driving car isn’t safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road. We won’t hesitate to protect the American public’s safety.”

This solution is not set in stone quite yet. The public is encouraged to share whatever questions, concerns, comments, etc. it may have about the policy with the DOT over the next 60 days. In addition, President Obama is hosting the first White House Frontiers Conference on October 13 in Pittsburgh. It focuses on new technologies and how to implement these innovations to best serve the public. It is open to everyone to come and share, learn and discover together. The conference looks at how we, as a nation, can expand our scientific knowledge, what can we learn from the rest of the world and how we can all work together to make people’s lives better. The summit is concentrating on more than the next big thing. It’s also investigating what those inventions can do to make the world a better place.

With every new day, the future is getting closer. And as it does, so too is the realization that government support and involvement during the innovation process is key to true progress.

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What Is E-Gov? Streamlining Government Process

Remember standing in endless lines to get your driver’s license renewed? Or the hassle of filing any important personal or business documents. Dealing with any government agency in the past was enough to send anyone straight over the edge. Well welcome to the brave new world of e-gov and the numerous benefits it offers.

E-government, or e-gov, is the use of information technology to support government operations, engage citizens, and provide government services. The immediacy of internet transactions provides for the electronic delivery of government information, programs, and services, as well as to improve the management of government, from streamlining business processes to maintaining electronic records, to improving the flow and integration of information

The ultimate goal of e-gov is to be able to offer an increased portfolio of public services to citizens in an efficient and cost effective manner. Simple tasks may be easier to perform through electronic government access. Many changes, such as marital status, address changes, or the registration of a car, can be a long process and take a lot of paper work for citizens. E-gov allows these tasks to be performed efficiently with more convenience to individuals. It is convenient and cost-effective for businesses, and the public benefits by getting easy access to the most current information available without having to spend time, energy and money to get it.

E-gov helps simplify processes and makes government information more easily accessible for public sector agencies and citizens. For example, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles simplified the process of certifying driver records to be admitted in county court proceedings. Indiana became the first state to allow government records to be digitally signed, legally certified and delivered electronically by using Electronic Postmark technology.

In 2006, Pennsylvania became first state to make electronic vehicle titles mandatory. As of today, 23 states offer electronic vehicle registration, and that number is growing every year.

In addition to its simplicity, e-gov services can reduce costs. The anticipated benefits of e-government include efficiency, improved services, better accessibility of public services, sustainable community development and more transparency and accountability.

The e-government vision is a vision of integrated information and services. This means radical changes are needed in what happens behind the Web site that citizens see. New business processes, different information flows, changed policies, new kinds of records, advanced security measures, and new data management methods are all part of the integration story. This deeply transformational work is why leadership is so critical, and why a report from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, “Eight Imperatives for Leaders in a Networked World,” says “to be an effective leader in our networked world, you need to engage IT issues. You need to play a key role in establishing strategic direction, implementing specific projects, and formulating new public policies.”

A shift from yesterday’s static Web to the new dynamic and interactive Web is critical in simplifying and streamlining services employing ever-evolving technologies that support real-time, dynamic interactions. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone today, and 19% of Americans rely to some degree on a smartphone for accessing online services and information and for staying connected to the world around them. Our world continues to evolve technologically, and now that our local, state and national government agencies have done the same, the thought of interfacing with the government has become a lot less stressful and intimidating. I’m just waiting for the “Click here To Get Married” and “Click Here To Get Divorced” apps, now that’s e-gov!

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