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Pennsylvania: Home of Ingenuity

January 04, 2022 09:00 AM

​While the idea of vehicle automation can seem more at home in a science fiction movie than in the real world, the truth is that real progress is being made every day, right here in Pennsylvania.

Secretary Gramian gets a closer look at Motional’s testing vehicle.
Secretary Gramian gets a closer look at Motional’s testing vehicle.  Photo: PennDOT
Technology and innovation in our field presents us with an opportunity to reinvent transportation in a way that is smarter, cleaner, safer, more equitable and more efficient than ever before.

Our second-largest city, Pittsburgh, is not only the cradle of vehicle automation, but also one of the global epicenters of its ongoing research and development. Currently, eight companies are authorized to test automated vehicles in 56 Pennsylvania counties. I'm proud that PennDOT is at the forefront of these efforts and has been nationally recognized for our leadership as a DOT in this space.

I recently had the opportunity to visit four automated vehicle technology companies in Pittsburgh: Argo AI, Aurora, Locomation and Motional.

Secretary Gramian discusses autonomous trucking technology with staff at Aurora.
Secretary Gramian discusses autonomous trucking technology with staff at Aurora.  Photo: PennDOT
I was incredibly impressed by all these companies – not only by the technologies that they're testing and developing, but by their focus on safe deployment. At each visit, team members from each company discussed how beneficial their open and collaborative relationship with PennDOT has been. It has been gratifying that the testing community has been supportive and willing participants in PennDOT's process, and has provided input and insight.

This technology will continue to grow regardless of PennDOT's involvement, and it's certainly in the Commonwealth's interest to help ensure that this industry continues to call Pennsylvania home. In fact, we're already seeing the benefits. A report issued in September by Pittsburgh's Regional Industrial Development Corporation and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce found that "the estimated direct employment footprint of Pittsburgh's autonomy sector totals over 6,300 jobs" with "…an additional 8,604 full- or part-time indirect jobs" in the region dependent on the industry. The direct-employment footprint alone provides "an estimated $651 million in labor income, [and] $34.7 million in state and local tax revenues."

Secretary Gramian and Locomation CEO Çetin Meriçli look under the hood of an automated truck.
Secretary Gramian and Locomation CEO Çetin Meriçli.  Photo: Locomation
And while there are clear economic benefits to be had through the advancement of this technology, PennDOT sees our role as helping to strike the delicate balance of helping to foster innovation and encourage growth while prioritizing the safety of all users. From a technology standpoint, companies submit notices of testing and a safety plan for PennDOT review prior to receiving authorization to test. We want to see a demonstrated safety culture and high-level safety requirements at these companies, To progress technology and the industry to a future deployment stage, legislative and policy changes will need to allow vehicle-only testing to create a pathway to the safe deployment of these vehicles. We are excited to see recent legislative interest in advancing this technology in our state.
PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian learns about vehicle features at Argo AI’s offices in Pittsburgh.
PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian learns about vehicle features at Argo AI’s offices in Pittsburgh.  Photo: PennDOT
While these discussions occur, we are committed to transparency with the public – an important component of public and community trust and awareness.

As equally important as the economic aspects, AV have the potential to eliminate driving-related injuries and crashes that occur on our roadways. We are optimistic about automation's potential positive impact on our society's future of safe travel. Here in Pennsylvania, we are doing everything possible to bring you the benefits of these industry changes while keeping your safety and quality of life at the forefront.

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