In March, Secretary Gramian traveled to Austin, Texas, for the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) Conference, which brings together a global community of thinkers to discuss cutting-edge ideas and diverse topics. Selected to speak among thousands of applicants, the Secretary joined Raj Rajkumar of Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) Mobility21 initiative, Courtney Ehrlichman of Panasonic Smart Mobility, and Andrew Woelfling of Argo AI, for a discussion on "Driving AV Technology Forward for Citizens."
The panel highlighted how Pennsylvania's public, private, and academic sectors are working together to safely grow the autonomous vehicle (AV) industry in the state – serving as a global model for deploying the technology – and creating new jobs in the process.
Why Pennsylvania? Panelists explained how the Commonwealth and its world-class research universities have long served as a breeding ground for technological advances, with CMU becoming known as the "birthplace of self-driving vehicles" in the 1980s. The DARPA Grand Challenge, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Defense, was established in 2004 to advance the development and deployment of AV technology. In 2007, a CMU and General Motors team – led by Rajkumar – took home the $2 million prize after its AV navigated a 60-mile urban course in 60 minutes.
PennDOT, under Secretary Gramian's leadership, has worked diligently to sustain Pennsylvania's leadership in AV research, while ensuring that public safety remains the paramount priority as AVs are tested on roadways.
During the panel, Gramian stressed that as a public agency, "PennDOT is responsible for the safety, accessibility, mobility and quality of life for all people in the state. When it comes to AV technology, public agencies must be engaged at every level with the private sector and academia to ensure we have all of the means needed to take AV technology to the next level."
The Secretary also emphasized that PennDOT is just a piece of the puzzle for advancing AV technology.
"As a public agency, our responsibility is to support the infrastructure for new technologies - we aren't in the business of building cars, trains, or planes, but we build airports, railroads, highways, and bridges. We help to fulfill the needs of the private sector to benefit the public," said Secretary Gramian.
Pennsylvania is a leading location for on-road testing of AVs, with vehicle testing occurring in 56 counties across the state. Emphasizing its commitment to safety, Pennsylvania has secured federal government grants to establish a testing and training center for emergency response personnel.
As the industry takes off, panelists noted that technology is projected to be a job creator, creating 6,300 new jobs in the Pittsburgh area. By 2026, it has the potential to be a trillion-dollar business for the region.
Secretary Gramian reminded everyone that, "Having this technology in place will enhance the quality of life and bring equity to citizens who don't have access to proper mobility options."