You are here

Technology and Innovation

Technology and Innovation

The Vision

An innovative U.S. transportation system that incorporates efficient, integrated, cost-effective, sustainable, and intermodal transportation solutions. Continued introduction of new concepts and new technology will lead to dramatic improvements in our Nation’s world-class transportation system.

New Directions in Transportation Technology and Innovation

Street with green lights
  • Innovations that will meet the challenges of the transportation system in 2030 involve the transformation of knowledge into new products, processes, and services to serve the public more effectively.
  • As we work to bring about transformation and innovation in the transportation enterprise, we must recognize that while technology plays a significant role, it is only one component of a complex process. There is no technological silver bullet that will solve our transportation challenges.
  • The transformation of the transportation system requires a holistic planning and implementation approach involving all the constituent stakeholders, including the people whose lives will be affected.
  • The real foundation of continuing innovation is people. The U.S. remains the most attractive country in the world for talented young scientists to start their research careers and our universities rank among the best in the world.

Pathway to the Future

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS): ITS encompass a broad range of wireless and wire line communications-based information and electronics technologies. When integrated into the transportation system, these technologies relieve congestion, improve safety, and enhance American productivity.

Congestion Reduction: Develop, demonstrate, and deploy innovative pricing and financing programs to reduce congestion.

Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen): Achieve greater aviation throughput, capacity, and productivity; reduce user and service costs; and ensure a safe, secure, and environmentally compatible aviation system through implementation of NextGen.

Hydrogen powered bus
© 2006 Ecotality, Inc.

Energy Efficiency and Alternative Fuels: Improve fuel efficiency; identify requirements for alternative fuel infrastructures, including hydrogen; and assess safety and environmental impacts of alternative fuel vehicles and the supporting systems.

Application of Enhanced Transportation Safety Data and Knowledge: Convert the data produced by digital technology applications into useful knowledge to improve safety. Provide local transportation agencies with the tools for assembling transportation plans and assessing the performance of their systems.

Human-Automation Interaction: Conduct and support research leading to increased understanding of human-machine interactions related to safety performance across all transportation modes.

System Resilience and Global Logistics: Identify freight bottlenecks and changing transportation patterns, and develop and implement technologies to enhance passenger and cargo flow in the wake of manmade and natural non-routine events.

Expand the Knowledge Base: Invest in university-based centers of excellence, including the University Transportation Centers (UTCs), to advance innovation, research, education, and technology transfer and to prepare the future transportation workforce.

Small Business Solutions: Through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, invigorate small businesses in the U.S. to ensure that new technologies focus on smart transportation solutions.

Realizing the Vision: Spotlight on Progress

Improving the Safety and Efficiency of the Road Transportation System

Today, nearly half of the annual fatalities on U.S. highways are caused by roadway departure and intersection-related incidents. The ITS program advances the application of advanced technologies to surface transportation.

A major component of ITS is the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) Initiative, a cooperative effort between Federal and State transportation departments and automobile manufacturers. Together we are evaluating the feasibility of deploying a communications system that will be used for improving the safety and efficiency of the Nations road transportation system.

Specific applications are being developed to test a broad variety of potential safety and mobility uses of the VII system, including:

  • Warning drivers of unsafe conditions or imminent collisions.
  • Warning drivers if they are about to run off the road or take a curve too fast.
  • Informing system operators of real-time congestion, weather conditions, and incidents.
  • Providing operators with information on corridor capacity for real-time management, planning, and provision of corridorwide advisories to drivers.

Development of a cost-benefit model for the VII system is ongoing. In parallel, the auto industry is undertaking its own efforts to investigate the viability of VII. Efforts to define suitable business models, privacy policies, deployment strategies, and management models for a National system are well underway.

See figure: U.S. Transportation Fatalities, 1990–2004.

Developing a Hydrogen-Powered Transportation System

Today we are on the verge of a revolution that has the potential of eclipsing even the changes brought about by the silicon chip. We are talking about a new era, an era in which our burgeoning energy needs are met and our infrastructure continues to grow while we maximize energy efficiency and preserve our environment.

U.S. DOT is playing a vital role in meeting President Bushs commitment to developing a hydrogen-powered transportation system. Government agencies are collaborating to make the hydrogen economy a reality. Hydrogen presents opportunities to meet Americas strategic transportation goals, including:

  • Developing regulations that help to ensure the safe design and operation of hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure.
  • Offering opportunities to deploy vehicles where air quality restrictions prohibit conventional technology.
  • Reducing transportations impact on the environment through use of fuel-cell buses and heavy-duty vehicles.
  • Transitioning to a hydrogen economy, which will involve global partnerships that span continents and borders.

Today we are looking into the best ways to use fuel cells to power heavy vehicles. This work has already put fuel-cell buses on the road and may soon put new fuel-cell-powered vehicles on our rails and waterways. These developments are providing answers to communities searching for clean, safe, sustainable transportation solutions.

As hydrogen technology advances at a revolutionary pace, the Federal government will keep our commitment to safety. That is why we are leading the way in considering improvements in the design, construction, and testing of pipelines and in demonstrating and deploying new and safer hydrogen distribution and delivery systems, including high-pressure composite storage systems.

Ensuring a Stable Supply of Aviation Fuels

Aviation fuel storage facility

Aviation needs to move toward reducing the impacts from its emissions. We need to invest now to ensure that we have a pipeline of innovations that will bring about the results we need.

The Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) has been established by U.S. DOT to develop a roadmap on the viability of alternative fuels for aviation. CAAFI brings together manufacturers, airlines, airports, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Two major alternative aviation fuel studies are currently underway.

The first study looks at the feasibility, costs, barriers, and technical issues associated with the transition to alternative aviation fuels. It will answer the key questions that need to be considered before taking big steps.

The second study explores environmental impacts. Without this kind of quantification, its difficult to set meaningful goals with meaningful schedules.

The U.S. Air Force is committed to certifying its entire fleet of aircraft to fly on a synthetic fuel by 2011. By 2025, oil shale and ethanol blends will be evaluated for their applicability to aircraft.

Long-term, hydrogen fuel is being evaluated for use in turbine engines.

CAAFI is leading efforts to develop alternative fuels to ensure an affordable and stable supply of environmentally progressive aviation fuels.

Investing in University-Based Centers of Excellence

The University Transportation Centers (UTCs), U.S. DOTs largest university program, conduct basic and applied research to advance U.S. technology and expertise in the many disciplines that transportation comprises. The Centers expand the body of knowledge in transportation; conduct education programs to expand the transportation workforce; and provide capacity-building programs to existing transportation professionals.

The UTC program invests in university-based centers of excellence to advance innovation, research, education, and technology transfer. Congress authorized the most significant expansion of the UTC program to date, increasing the funding for the program and the number of UTCs from 33 to 60. The expansion of the UTC program presents new opportunities for the program to make an even greater contribution to transportation research, education, and technology transfer.

Each UTC has a specific transportation theme that advances one of DOTs National strategic objectives and is in step with Federal transportation agencies to ensure that university research and innovation can address some of the most critical National transportation challenges. The themes range from Multimodal Solutions for Congestion Mitigation to Sustainable Freight Transportation Infrastructure Systems to Planning and Management of Regional Transportation Systems.

Invigorating Small Businesses to Develop Smarter Transportation Solutions

U.S. DOTs Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program provides funding to small businesses to develop commercially viable technologies that will meet the Nations transportation needs. The goals of the program are to strengthen the U.S. economy by invigorating Americas small businesses and to ensure that technologies developing out of this unique program will focus on safer, simpler, and smarter transportation solutions.

DOT is one of 11 Federal agencies that provide research and development funds to the entrepreneurial sector for innovative proposals. Although small businesses are a frequent source of technological innovation, many lack the necessary funding to support their research.

SBIR provides small businesses with funding through the start-up and development stages of their research and encourages commercialization of resulting products. Past recipients of SBIR funding have developed innovative transportation solutions in areas such as emergency-window exits for passenger rail cars, technology to maintain cost-effective pavement networks, and a tool to manage traffic flow and access to roadways.