Innovation at the Crossroads: Ushering in Connected and Automated Vehicle Technology


Op-Ed in The Hill

By Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3)


While we may be no closer to flying cars of Back to the Future or Star Trek’s teleportation, engineers are quickly unlocking the secrets to make another science fiction dream come true: the autonomous car. Indeed, there is great potential in ongoing transportation research and technology development fields that Congress can help enable.

For some, surface transportation used to be rather staid and unimaginative. But today the very concept of “mobility” is being reinvented through automation and connectivity.  Already, Mercedes and Infinity have vehicles that let drivers sit back and relax on the highway without having to operate the steering wheel, brakes, and accelerator. Apps like Waze connect users to valuable transportation information like real-time updates of traffic conditions that enable optimized route guidance. And this is just the beginning…

I convened an advanced transportation technology roundtable in San Francisco in March that included a range of industry and government stakeholders.  While I heard about new ideas for making mobility more efficient, more environmentally friendly, and more available to everyone, a common theme was the need to address pressing policy challenges.

I see incredible opportunities for transportation to benefit from rapidly advancing automation, connectivity, and information technologies. We need to find innovative ways to dramatically ease congestion, improve personal mobility, and cut energy use.   As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as well as the Ranking Member on the Research and Technology Subcommittee of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, I am working to ensure that we as a nation are developing these technologies effectively.

Technology can achieve huge positive impacts. Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), and vehicle-to-bike/pedestrian (V2B/P) communication can reduce up to 80% of crashes, saving lives and reducing congestion.  Depending on whom you ask, Coordinated Adaptive Cruise Control (CACC) can double, or even quadruple, the capacity of roadways.  We need big solutions to keep our country moving.  There are opportunities for connected technologies to benefit mass transit and traffic management systems in order to improve the efficiency of our existing physical infrastructure.

But I recognize that there are still many technology and policy hurdles that we face. In particular, there are issues related to wireless spectrum, supporting research and development, cyber-physical security, and information technology infrastructure.

For instance, it is important that we protect the wireless spectrum dedicated to V2V communication. This 5.9 GHz spectrum is currently reserved for V2V communication, but it has been threatened by pressure to release it in order to relieve “spectrum crunch,”. Congress should support the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)  in assuring that safety critical messages are not subject to harmful interference from unlicensed devices.

Congress must also support strong research and development spending, including DOT’s connected and automated vehicle pilot projects. There are many ways to integrate these technologies into a city’s infrastructure and planning, and the federal government must take a leadership role in understanding how to do so safely and best capture societal benefits.

Increasing cyber-physical system complexity brings security challenges, as well as privacy challenges. I have been working with industry to understand the existing and imminent cybersecurity risks, and have even witnessed a demonstrated hacking of a moving car. Effective cybersecurity policy will depend on active and continued collaboration between public and private sectors.

Technology in this area is changing so rapidly that decision makers must be more nimble and informed than ever before. We must foster the types of collaborations between the public and private sector that will keep our country at the forefront. For example, Volvo's Drive-Me collaboration with the Swedish government is certifying city streets for the deployment of 100 autonomous cars.  Cities and Apps are finding ways to share data in mutually beneficial and ethical ways, and the federal government should be facilitating this type of collaboration.

Beyond the realm of connected and smart vehicles, we must also continue to invest in other transportation R&D areas, including sustainable and durable construction materials, roadway safety improvements, and transit and rail safety and accessibility technologies. While intelligent transportation systems may be the future, we must also continue to pursue improvements in the infrastructure systems, materials and safety assurance capabilities that we rely on today.

We cannot allow the U.S. to fall behind on automated and connected transportation technologies.  We must strive to be proactive, not reactive, to these transportation innovations.  It is important for industry and the federal government to work together to accelerate implementation and maximize the societal benefits of these technologies safely. In the upcoming surface transportation bill, I will be promoting the development and application of these novel technologies so we can pursue a safer, smarter and more mobile future.