Senator Cory Gardner

Senator Cory Gardner

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) says self-driving cars could help Colorado’s economy, Edward Graham reported in The Durango Herald.

Gardner was speaking Tuesday at a hearing on autonomous vehicles before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Representatives from academia and industry took part.

Need for Transportation Solutions

Gardner, a member of the  committee, said the prospects for autonomous vehicles in Colorado were intriguing:

And this technology I think, is one of the keys to support a thriving ski industry, resort industry up in the mountains where you’re limited to the amount of tunnels you can put through a mountain — both from a cost perspective and from a physical perspective — and so I think this is an incredibly fascinating opportunity.

Colorado’s recent population expansion — up 100,000 from 2014 to 2015 alone — makes the need for transportation solutions more pressing. Graham notes that Colorado is the second-fastest growing state in the country.

Infrastructure Changes

An opinion piece in Wired by Andrew Ng and Yuanqing Lin of Baidu (a Chinese search engine company that plans to put autonomous cars on the roads by 2018), says that self-driving vehicles will work best once there are changes made to the infrastructure.

Humans have been open-minded about new technologies in the past, for example, developing infrastructure such as crossing lights and learning how to behave around trains.

Gardner wondered how self-driving cars would be able to tackle such challenges as reacting when an animal or person suddenly moves in front of them.

Small changes in the infrastructure will compensate for certain weaknesses that self-driving vehicle technology is prone to, such as the inability to understand a construction worker’s hand gestures or the inability to read a traffic light’s color if the sun is directly behind it.

Senate Committee Meeting

General Motors, ride-sharing service Lyft, auto parts manufacturer Delphi, and Google representatives were among those testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday, urging Congress to regulate an industry that would be hampered by many different state laws, Nathan Bomey wrote for USA Today.

Legislators in 23 states have introduced 53 pieces of legislation to regulate autonomous vehicles. Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving cars division, testified:

If every state is left to go its own way without a unified approach, operating self-driving cars across state boundaries would be an unworkable situation and one that will significantly hinder safety innovation, interstate commerce, national competitiveness and the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles.

The Senate Commerce Committee held the hearing two months after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it would forge ahead on regulations for autonomous vehicles. The Obama administration has said it intends to dedicate $3.9 billion more than 10 years to hasten the development of self-driving cars and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication.

Despite enthusiasm from such senators as Gardner and John Thune (R-S.D.), Mary Louise Cummings, director of Duke University’s Humans and Autonomy Lab and Duke Robotics, said she was less optimistic about the prospect of fully autonomous vehicles on the roads any time soon. She said two big challenges are equipping the vehicles to ward off possible cyber attacks, and designing them so they can operate well in bad weather.