Chao Doubles Down on Drones, Regulatory Reductions

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By Kyle Daly and Shaun Courtney

The Department of Transportation wants the private sector and technology innovators to help kill regulations that may be inhibiting the growth of autonomous vehicle and drone technology, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at a trade show.

Chao seized on the Consumer Electronic Showcase event in Las Vegas to plug several of her agency’s wonkier priorities like regulatory reductions, requests for comments and pilot program updates.

“We want to reduce ... regulatory barriers and regulatory hurdles to innovation in this sector,” she said.

Chao announced several updates, including an expedited framework for self-driving vehicles and a doubling in size of the initial round of participants in a drone pilot program. She also touched on the administration’s plans for a highly-anticipated infrastructure package, saying that it would promote innovation through regulatory reductions.

“We believe that creativity and innovation are part of the great American genius and policy makers need to safeguard this legacy and allow innovation to flourish,” Chao said.

Infrastructure Incentives

The White House’s infrastructure proposal will seek to offer incentives, though probably not federal spending, to encourage companies and municipalities to embed emerging technology into new projects, Chao said Jan. 10.

“We will be talking about how do we introduce and embed technology in the future infrastructure system in this country?” Chao said. “How do we provide the incentives—not direct government dollars, but how do we offer incentives that will ensure transformative technologies will be self-sustaining?”

President Donald Trump plans to introduce the package, which aims to drive $1 trillion in spending nationwide, around the time of his first State of the Union address Jan. 30, Chao said.

Drone Double Down

There will be twice as many lead drone pilot program participants as initially proposed following the “overwhelming” interest in the Transportation Department’s program, the secretary said.

The unmanned aircraft system integration pilot program the department announced in October received more than 150 completed applications. The applicants include leads like state and local governments and their drone industry partners, such as Amazon.com Inc. or SZ DJI Technology Co.

The first round of approved pilot programs will include at least 10 lead participants, Chao said. The agency had initially said it would choose at least five participants.

The agency received applications from 40 states, 75 local governments, several tribal entities, more than 50 colleges and universities and six airport authorities, according to Chao.

Selections are expected by May.

Expedited Vision

The administration is expediting the release of a new set of guidelines for autonomous vehicles that will be inter-modal, including trucks and transit vehicles like buses, Chao said. The new Vision for Safety 3.0 will be released following public comment on several automated vehicle notices. The last vision document was released in the fall of 2017.

Industry groups welcomed the agency’s willingness to iterate and respond to a rapidly evolving innovations in transportation.

“We applaud Secretary Chao and the U.S. Department of Transportation for wasting no time in taking the next regulatory step toward the self-driving future,” David Strickland, general counsel for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, said in a statement. “The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets supports [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] efforts to address key safety standards and enable innovative redesigns of fully self-driving (Level 4 and Level 5) vehicles, which need not require controls for human operation.”

Chao said the public and private sectors have an obligation to shape policy to support innovation.

“Transformative technologies are poised to revolutionize transportation and mass-integration of self-driving cars, trucks, drones will be an exponential leap in the way that we travel and the way that we transport goods,” Chao said. “But to make this scenario a reality, we also have to revolutionize transportation policy.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Daly in Washington at kdaly@bloomberglaw.com; Shaun Courtney in Las Vegas at scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com

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