DoT envisions human-free car operation

Tuesday - 9/7/2010, 10:31am EDT

Dr. Robert Bertini, acting director, Intelligent Transportation Systems, DOT

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By Vyomika Jairam
Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Cars guided by satellite. Trains that know where other trains are. A big boost in surface transportation safety.

It may sound like science fiction, but the research arm of the Transportation Department is at work on this future right now. With many modes of transportation already using automation as standard operating procedure, cars guiding themselves and avoiding crashes might not be too far off.

The key, Dr. Robert Bertini, the acting director of the Intelligent Transportation Systems program at DOT, says is not just knowing what is possible technologically, but how the technology works together, and how to make it widespread in the market.

"We envision a world with connected vehicles, that we think we can dramatically improve safety, mobility, and sustainability," Bertini said.

The program, called IntelliDrive, has the DOT working with states, auto manufacturers, and after-market devices manufacturers. DOT has three aims: improving safety across the transportation system, improving mobility, and also improving environmental sustainability.

The first step? A research project which launched in January to explore whether a regulatory or incentive-based program would be most efficient. In conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the program wants to decide by 2013 if, after a large visible pilot project, using incentives or passing new regulation is the best way to go forward with getting these high-intelligence products into cars and trucks as soon as possible.

DOT isn't just focusing on new car production though.

"We see the after-market as perhaps a way, depending on the results of our research, as opportunity for these safety-related devices to find their way into vehicles sooner than in new vehicles that would come off the assembly lines," Bertini said.

So with research underway, the program is working toward making a decision by 2013, but will continue testing and researching what technologies are available and best suited until then.

"We are anxious and moving as aggressively as we can to make sure that we start realizing the benefits as soon as possible," Bertini said.