Oakland Press: U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens hosts in-district Congressional hearing on smart mobility, technology

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens hosted fellow members of Congress and experts in the field of smart mobility and connected vehicles for a Congressional hearing Friday in Livonia. 

Stevens serves as chairwoman of the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology, which has legislative jurisdiction and general oversight on all matters relating to federal science policy along with the distribution of federal research and development grants. 

The topic of conversation during the subcommittee’s field hearing in Michigan’s 11th District focused on smart mobility and how the use of such technology can improve the ability of small cities and suburban communities to provide safe and efficient mobility solutions.Top Articles

The conversation also revolved around examining research and development needs to ensure this smart technology is accessible to a wider spectrum of communities across the country, both urban and rural. 

Joining Stevens was fellow subcommittee member U.S. Rep Bill Foster (D-Illinois); U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Texas); Oakland County Executive David Coulter; Mark Dowd, executive director of Smart Cities Lab; Dr. Raj Rajkumar, director of Mobility21; Dr. Tierra Bills, assistant professor at Wayne State University’s College of Engineering; and Scott Averitt, manager of public/private partnerships for Robert Bosch LLC.

The group spent time discussing how various smart technology projects could be funded, researched, developed, and tested through the implementation of public/private partnerships, and ultimately integrated into communities for use by drivers.

The biggest challenge, or barrier, in bringing this smart mobility technology and infrastructure to consumers is the price tag. Another challenge is learning how to identify and foster the right partnerships in order to not just develop the technology, but raise the dollars necessary to sustain and maintain the technology and infrastructure long-term so that it’s reliable, safe, and efficient. 

Stevens, who talked about the subcommittee’s role in allocating federal research and development grant dollars, wanted to know how the federal government can continue to support various agencies and local governments with the research, development, and deployment of these smart technologies across the country, but more specifically in smaller communities.  

The panelists answered that question with one word, “money.” Yes, federal research and development grant dollars are available, but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near sufficient to provide what is needed to research, build, and implement the technology short-term while sustaining and maintaining it long-term. 

Stevens also also sought information from the panel on ways in which the federal government could balance long-term research needs with short-term deployment and testing activities. 

“We here in Michigan recognize how much we are doing with so little,” she said. “We’re doing it almost at the expense of not having it. 

She said recent developments in connected and autonomous vehicles, combined with increasing computing power and travel data, have enabled rapid advances in regional planning and mobility.

Rajkumar said the smart mobility market is supposed to become a multi-trillion dollar market in the future. He said funding is the issue and that the U.S. government needs to invest a substantial amount of money into bringing smart technology to the forefront if it wants to maintain competitive with other global leaders. 

“We must also create effective policy framework to develop smart city mobility infrastructure and innovation,” he said. “We also need to continue national networking efforts to develop best practices for establishing smart technology infrastructure and support research and workforce development.”

Dowd said there are important factors that need to be taken into consideration when communities are seeking to dig into the smart mobility landscape and establish smart mobility infrastructure and technology. He added that not all private sector companies make for good partners, something communities should think about. 

Some of those critical areas include: understanding and finding the community’s challenge, going for what communities need and not always want, working with local university and colleges, conducting deep community engagement, and developing communities of practice that focus on seamless mobility, real-time data, equity and access, and energy and sustainability. 

Coulter spoke about the county’s new connected vehicle infrastructure pilot program, which is still in the research and development stages. This project, a public/private partnership with Ontario-based P3 Mobility, will test connected vehicle infrastructure and technology to determine whether an innovative business model, one in which generates revenue from the use of that infrastructure, is viable.

“For our pilot program, the traditional funding options are not sufficient to allow us to pursue it,” he said. “We need to make the technology more cost effective. The technology is there, but the cost is still a barrier. We could use federal research and development grant dollars to help with that.”

He added that smart mobility is of immeasurable value to Oakland County and its businesses and residents because it will improve traffic safety and quality of life and attract jobs by driving business development.

“Oakland County is proud to be on the leading edge of the development of Smart Technology,” he said. “We will continue to work with our public, private, and non-profit partners to move Smart Mobility solutions forward. 

The company will install wireless smart intersection technology at 10 to 12 intersections across the county and research the user experience to better understand the optimal pricing of various road services and their projected income potential for private industries, like P3 Mobility, and public entities, such as Oakland County.

Once implemented, this system will send instantaneous electronic messages to vehicles, warning motorists of potentially dangerous driving situations such as a vehicle running a red light or stop sign as well as alerting drivers of dangerous road conditions and construction zones ahead.Oakland County selects company to develop its connected vehicle pilot program

After six months, Oakland County is ready to make an announcement.

Gary Piotrowicz, Road Commission for Oakland County deputy managing director and county highway engineer, said the project is still in its infancy with the scope of work being created. He said funding continues to be the biggest barrier in getting the project to move forward. 

“The technical and research side of this is probably 90 percent there,” he said. “If we were given enough money to get this thing going, we could start going. We know enough about this and what to do with it. It’s just a matter of money. Nobody has developed a business plan for what we’re trying to do, which is generating revenue from use of this infrastructure. Right now, the federal government has only contributed research dollars.”

In 2018, the Oakland County Business Roundtable’s transportation and mobility committee recommended that the county executive advocate for local educational institutions to offer additional courses and degrees related to automotive engineering, computer systems, software development and cybersecurity to help bridge the divide for connected mobility needs. 

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