Ecosystems & Entrepreneurship
day one project

Steering Innovation for Autonomous Vehicles Towards Societally Beneficial Outcomes

06.14.21 | 2 min read | Text by


Vehicle automation, coupled with simultaneous mobility revolutions of vehicle electrification and ridesharing, is set to have major impacts on society—perhaps the biggest impacts of any development in transportation since the introduction of cars over 100 years ago. But whether those impacts will be positive or not is still unknown. For example, widespread deployment of AVs could slash U.S. energy consumption by as much as 40% due to improved driving efficiency; alternatively, it could double U.S. energy consumption due to increased availability of cheap transport options. Similar uncertainty surrounds the potential impacts of AVs on physical safety, transportation access for disabled communities, overall traffic efficiency, and long-term greenhouse-gas emissions. Guiding the evolution of AVs towards the future we want requires evaluating AVs using metrics that prioritize societally beneficial outcomes. The Biden-Harris administration should create an Evaluation Innovation Engine at the Department of Transportation (DOT) to propose, refine, and standardize public-interest metrics for AVs.

The Evaluation Innovation Engine (EIE) would do for AV metrics what the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge did for AV development: ignite productive competition among companies to achieve state-of-the-art performance. The EIE should have two main tasks (1) convening stakeholders to discuss potential metrics and providing opportunities for public comment on how proposed metrics should be prioritized, and (2) administering annual funding rounds of ~$72 million each for private firms and other entities to create, test, and optimize algorithms for publicly beneficial AV outcomes. The EIE should be overseen by the Secretary of Transportation and staffed by representatives from pertinent DOT offices (Office of Civil Rights, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, Office of Public Affairs) and administrations (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA)), as well as a broad coalition of civil-society advocates.