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US Secretary of Transportation Provides Insights About the Future of Transportation

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【Summary】During the interview, Foxx made several references to 2021. Specifically, he foresees fully autonomous vehicles being introduced to commercial markets by this time. This is also the same timeline that many leading automakers, such as Mercedes-Benz and Ford, expect their autonomous offerings to be released for mainstream consumption.

Michael Cheng    Nov 13, 2016 11:45 PM PT

The transition from human-driven vehicles to self-driving cars has already begun. Anthony Foxx, US Secretary of Transportation, recently sat down for an interview with The Verge to provide a glimpse of what we can expect during this five-year period.

"Families will be able to walk out of their homes and call a vehicle, and that vehicle will take them to work or to school. We're going to see transit systems sharing services with some of these companies. It's not just autonomy in the vehicles," explained Foxx.

The top three challenges that most groups see as serious barriers preventing the adoption of level 5 autonomous vehicles includes the following: costly technological components, consumer trust in driverless technology and "relatively nonexistent regulations." It is important to consider that in the past six months, the industry has gained momentum in addressing such challenges.

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2021 Timeline

During the interview, Foxx made several references to 2021. Specifically, he foresees fully autonomous vehicles being introduced to commercial markets by this time. This is also the same timeline that many leading automakers, such as Mercedes-Benz and Ford, expect their autonomous offerings to be released for mainstream consumption. Interestingly, the Internet-of-Things (IoT) ecosystem is predicted to explode by 2020, which makes sense, because the two markets (IoT and self-driving cars) are closely related to each other. In smart cities, driverless cars will be connected to homes, stores, banks and healthcare services. 

When it comes to funding, Foxx mentioned that projects with high demand should receive priority over projects that are driven by supply. This would help deliver changes that people actually want, such as high-speed rail systems, useable bike paths and connected roads. Out of all the projects on the Department of Transportation's to-do list, improving road infrastructure is at the very top. This is because "baby boomers" and "millennials" who live in or near urban locations have increased their reliance on ridesharing and car-sharing programs; and as a result, would need reliable roadways to facilitate such services.

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Education and Acceptance

The topic of educational programs for individuals who aren't familiar with how self-driving technology works also came up during the interview. In order to increase consumer trust, businesses may be required to invest in programs that teach locals how to operate an autonomous vehicle and how to approach one when crossing the street or while driving on the road. This aspect of the transition is crucial, because traditional, level 1 autonomous cars won't be replaced by their highly anticipated successor overnight. Both human-driven and autonomous vehicles will likely co-exist on public roads for at least the next 30 years.

Foxx explained that this (the integration of autonomous cars with the current transportation system), is one of the biggest challenges the industry is facing today.

"The acceptance issue is something that the industry and government have to be focused on. The most important question that consumers will have is, is it safe? Early indications are that the first few minutes of a ride in an autonomous car can be pretty scary to people who haven't been in one before," said Foxx.

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