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TxDOT to spur research on driverless cars

Among other things.

The state could fund research into self-driving cars, jet packs and hover cars if a new proposal by the Texas Department of Transportation is funded.

In a presentation Thursday to the Texas Transportation Commission, TxDOT Deputy Executive Director John Barton said the agency plans to begin working with universities around the state to explore and test “emerging transportation technologies.” He said the initiative would make the state’s transportation system more efficient and better prepared for transformative technologies that are already in development such as Google’s driverless car.

“The disruptive force of the Google car is a dominant issue we have to be aware of,” Barton said.

Along with self-driving cars, Barton also suggested that TxDOT might test out jet packs, hover cars and drones. He also touted the idea of “solar panel roadways,” in which solar panels would be embedded in roads, generating energy and melting snow and ice.

“These are the technologies that we know are real and are coming upon us quickly,” Barton said.

Barton said the project would involve launching “test beds” to try out futuristic concepts and determine how to implement them. It would also use “think tanks” to draw “the brightest minds across the globe” to explore challenges facing the state’s transportation system and to make recommendations to TxDOT and state lawmakers.

TxDOT plans to request $50 million from lawmakers during next year’s legislative session to fund the initiative for two years. The proposal will come on top of the agency’s biennial budget request of $20 billion, which agency officials have said is as much as $5 billion short of what is needed to maintain current congestion around the state as population grows.

“We’re asking them to fund the program for us,” Barton said. “If they choose not to, we may continue to move forward trying to find other funding strategies.”

That’s…surprisingly cool, especially coming from an inside-the-box organization like TxDOT. It should be noted that technology of tomorrow like driverless cars could help ameliorate TxDOT’s long-term budget shortfall, though probably not soon enough to make a difference. There was a bill to enable the use of driverless cars in Texas filed in the last Legislature. I’m sure that will come up again next year, perhaps a bit earlier in the session this time. I’m glad to see TxDOT take a leadership role in this. Perhaps now we can finally get those flying cars we were promised so many years ago.

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One Comment

  1. Robert Nagle says:

    Self-driving cars is one of those fake futurist topics that really crowds out more important topics. Like: providing better infrastructure for electric cars and bikes and improving mass transit. Humans could survive for millenniums without inventing self-driving cars, but coming up with a transportation solution to replace gasoline-powered cars has been more urgent than ever….

    It’s like can openers. Sure, electric can openers are cooler than manual ones, but manual ones are all that 99% of the population needs — plus they break down less often, are cheaper and don’t use electricity.

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