• US Department of Transport Launches $40 Million Prize to Raise Awareness for Self-Driving Cars

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US Department of Transport Launches $40 Million Prize to Raise Awareness for Self-Driving Cars

Mar 12 2016

Despite the fact that several US states have allowed self-driving cars on their roads since as early as 2013, remarkably few cities in America have actually looked into how to incorporate autonomous vehicles into their infrastructure. In fact, according to a study from a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, just one of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the USA had even mentioned autonomous vehicles in their future plans for the next 20 years.

In an effort to promote greater awareness and planning for the imminent arrival of driverless cars, the US Department of Transport (DOT) has launched Smart City, a contest open to mid-sized cities across the States. In order to claim the $40 million prize, the winning candidate will have to draft a comprehensive list of how to ensure safety and mobility in incorporating autonomous cars in tandem with existing infrastructures.

Encouraging Action

A sluggish reaction to the impending arrival of driverless cars from any number of manufacturers, including Apple, Google and Tesla, has prompted the DOT to splash the cash on raising awareness. The plan seems to be working, as well; as of last week, 78 mid-sized metros throughout the United States had submitted their plans.

However, rather than just theoretical solutions to theoretical problems, the DOT is keen to pinpoint strategies that will work in real-life situations. With this in mind, last week they announced a partnership with infrastructural software giants Autodesk, who are responsible for Infraworks 360. This handy piece of technology is capable of using 3-D visualisation software to map out engineering plans and solve real-world problems.

“Their system is able to create 20 different versions of the same thing and help you figure out which of those versions makes the most sense,” said Anthony Foxx, the Transportation Secretary. “What they bring is … the capability to design a concept on a computer and to actually see how well it works. To scope it, to figure out what inputs you need, to figure out what changes you need to make before you spend a lot of money putting something on the ground.” In this manner, the winning city will be able to make the most use of the $40 million windfall without squandering it on unworkable projects.

Ironing out the Kinks

One of the principal reasons behind why cities have been reluctant to incorporate driverless cars into future plans is not knowing where to start. Exactly how autonomous vehicles will affect junctions, traffic lights and the suchlike is difficult to predict. Furthermore, the fact that many of the new cars are expected to be almost completely silent poses a plethora of new problems in terms of driver and pedestrian safety.

The access to Infraworks 360 included in the DOT’s prize could help urban planning authorities work out such kinks. Moreover, the DOT have announced two further partnerships. The first is Vulcan Inc., who are rumoured to be injecting another $10 million boon on top of the original $40 million prize, as well as Mobileye, specialists in technology designed to help city bus drivers cope with the influx of autonomous vehicles.

By offering such a prestigious prize, Foxx and the DOT are hoping that the ball will be set rolling on plans to incorporate driverless vehicles sooner rather than later. “Part of this challenge is really nudging our cities, our incubators of innovation and ideas, to imagine how they may use this technology, not just 30 years from now but today,” he said.

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