At SXSW, U.S. DOT council for emerging transportation technology announced


AUSTIN, Texas (Nexstar) — With new innovations in transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation will now have a Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council that will solve jurisdictional and regulatory gaps that may impede growth and deployment of new technologies.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao made the announcement on Tuesday morning at a South by Southwest session on the future of transportation innovation. This was part of the conference’s “Intelligent Future” track. This year, SXSW is featuring a number of sessions related to transportation, such as self-driving shuttles, vehicles and trucks.

“What is going on in the field of transportation technology is nothing short of stunning,” Chao said. 

Chao says her department is “tech neutral” but is striving to be more innovation-friendly.

“We basically have a 20th-century organizational structure for 21st-century technologies,” she said. “So when new technologies don’t fit neatly into the existing modal structure, the result can slow down and even stifle transportation infrastructure.”

She cited the hyperloop and autonomous cars as examples of new ideas in transportation.

“These ideas have matured into physical prototypes and project proposals,” she said. “Inventors, investors and stakeholders are ready to build out these technologies and yet too often, when they come to the department to obtain the necessary safety authorizations, permits and in some cases, funding, they don’t know which part of the department they need to deal with.”

Work on the future of possible Hyperloop travel in Texas has been underway. The founder of the Virgin Group, for Virgin Hyperloop One, praised this new council.

“I want to thank Secretary Chao for her leadership setting up this forward-thinking council at DOT,” Sir Richard Branson said in a statement. “Virgin Hyperloop One is eager to continue working with the Secretary and her team. Through our recent conversations, it is clear she wants to be at the forefront of exploring innovative technologies to improve transportation in the United States.”

Texas Guadaloop, which is affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin, is using the spring semester to collect data on different propulsion methods in its project, according to a newsletter on its website. Texas Guadaloop’s team has built and tested a Hyperloop pod that levitates using air-bearing technology.

The NETT Council will hold meetings later this week.

“The council will ensure project sponsors will have a single point of access to discuss plans and also proposals,” Chao said. “Going forward, there will now be one place – a one-stop shop for innovators and stakeholders to work with the department to implement new crossmodal technologies just as traditional technologies can do.”

SXSW’s trade show at the Austin Convention Center also features a brand-new addition of a Future Mobility Showcase. It is a collection of transportation-related companies, ranging from self-driving cars to latest technologies in spacecraft. The Future Mobility Showcase will also highlight the newest projects in aerial drones, trains, commercial trucking, and public transportation.

Kate Hartman, who is with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Systems Joint Programs Office, will also speak at a panel about automation’s potential to transform the future of freight by land, air and sea. Other experts from the department have been at the conference since Monday discussing their latest featured projects. They’re hosting five interactive sessions and a demonstration room at the Courtyard by Marriot Austin/Downtown Convention Center until Tuesday at 7 p.m. They’ll also host sessions about how automation can improve the mobility of travelers with disabilities, as well as cybersecurity within transportation systems.

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