Move America: Emerging Tech and Continued Regulatory Uncertainty

On September 26 and 27, the fourth annual MOVE America Conference was held in Austin, Texas. Thousands of attendees filled the tech hub’s convention center, all with a similar goal – to explore, develop, and deliver technological solutions to make transportation work better.

Lined up amongst the numerous temporary stages were row after row of transportation industry leaders touting various innovative and promising products to create a better future for mobility. The technology applications spanned most transportation modes and included displays of wireless charging technologies, data solutions platforms, micromobility demos, all electric vehicle (EV) fleets, mobility modeling applications, advanced air mobility (AAM) systems, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) tools, and many more. The depth of expertise in the room was vast, and the presentations and panels spanned as many topics or more.

With so many technologies in one place, promising a future of lowered emissions, transportation accessibility for all abilities, equity within communities, enhanced mobility, and overall increased quality of life, one question remained prevalent throughout the discussions: How do we adapt on the regulatory front to accommodate and responsibly deploy new technologies while ensuring safety, equity, and accessibility?

Innovation vs. Regulation: Vehicle Electrification, Automation, and Aviation

Vehicle Electrification

While electrification was, understandably, a major theme throughout all modes, passenger vehicle electrification in particular received the most attention. Discussions covered wireless charging, EVs as storage unit assets for the electric grid, EV demand modeling, electric demand modeling, charging infrastructure, air quality and community impacts, and numerous other areas.

Acknowledging that electrification done right has significant positive externalities and may not present the levels of safety risk possibly present with other emerging technologies, it was interesting to tune into presentations and panels that explored the extensive government involvement in electrification. Presenters detailed numerous federal programs designed to expand EV infrastructure and increase the number of EVs including the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program (NEVI), Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Grants, and Clean Vehicle Tax Credits.

Panelists, including Daniel Keh of Guggenheim Partners LLC who spoke in an early keynote on EV charging, were quick to note that government involvement in the EV space has been largely successful. Keh argued that the regulatory framework surrounding EVs has been one of the key drivers in growth. But in acknowledging the vehicle side of EV growth, panelists and presenters were also quick to lament the lack of investment and sometimes regulation for U.S. utilities operations.

With numerous government programs incentivizing the growth of EVs, the energy attendees were quick to note that many utilities are largely unprepared for such a vast influx in demand. There is significant uncertainty in what the demand will be, where the demand loads will occur, and whether existing utilities have the infrastructure and security to accommodate these changes. An irony surely not lost on many attendees is the hosting of this conference in a state which has already struggled to handle demand and effectively regulate its electric grid in recent years, including during the electrical grid blackouts of 2021.

Vehicle Automation and Aviation

The shortcomings of low regulation were most visible in the areas of automation and operations for automotive and aviation applications. Industry leaders came from around the country and world to discuss and demo different technologies. Companies showed off new visualization tools to assist with autonomous vehicle navigation during inclement weather (ie, during times of minimal road marking visibility). Advanced air mobility companies like Wing and Zipline discussed capabilities in hovering, vertical takeoff, and flight pattern developments. But most of these stakeholders were also quick to mention the challenges of the lack of a regulatory framework for operations.

For vehicle automation, commercial and passenger vehicles alike are facing difficulties in developing a technology in an operating world with limited legal framework. The usual topics resurfaced repeatedly during the conference, including the difficulty in following safety standards designed for driver-operated vehicles, the liability issues between owner and software, and the challenges of issuing a citation. Many of these hurdles do not have a solution in our current system – you cannot issue a citation to a car and the changing world of insurance and liability is uncertain. The overarching take was that our current regulatory system just does not work.

Where the conversation veered slightly, and more of the private industry perspective emerged, was in discussing the impact of low regulation on investment in the AV industry. While private companies have flooded to this market, some are facing challenges in generating funding for further development as the lack of regulatory framework has made some venture capitalists skittish to invest. While Texas was also lauded for the business friendly policies of the state, like the loose state-level framework seen in SB 2205 from Texas’s 85th session and the Governor and the Texas Department of Transportation’s efforts with the Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Task Force, a lack of federal standards still leaves these companies in a place of uncertainty, potentially facing as many as 50 states with 50 sets of regulations – if the states have gotten that far.

Many of the automation concerns relating to cars and trucks are also relevant to the aviation industry. There are issues with liability and navigating a world of driverless local and regional aircraft trips, but the opportunities of these flight trips are vast. These types of AAM operations integrate new aircrafts into existing airspace operation and can fill gaps in just-in-time deliveries, allow for more efficient transport of lifesaving medical supplies, remove extra truck trips from roadways, and increase overall quality of life with increased transportation options.

AAM operations are already developing rapidly. Each day Zipline aircrafts are flying distances, which when combined total the circumference of the world, making a drone delivery every 90 seconds. Other companies like Wing are putting up similar delivery numbers. Where these mobility companies are struggling is in the same development of regulations but for aviation operations. Some of the problems facing local and regional passenger transport and delivery operations are the lack of uniform standards for aircraft development, sizing specifications for takeoff and landing pads, aerial routing guidance, integration with airport operations, integration into the overall transportation and mobility landscape, need to adhere to traditional requirements in Visual Flight Rules (VFRs) like fueling requirements, and general approval for operations.

Without doing a deep dive into the numerous issues listed above, the takeaway is that there seem to be a lot more questions than answers for this emerging area. For example, each drone delivery company must obtain approval for operating beyond line of sight on a case-by-case basis. VFRs mandate fueling requirements that exceed many electric operations. There is no uniformity in design or consensus on where future launch areas should be located. And as companies continue to push into these areas, as a result of minimal Federal Aviation Administration regulation, some states are stepping up to fill voids in operating requirements, passing legislation prohibiting operation over critical infrastructure facilities like water treatment, military, power plants, and others.


MOVE America will leave you in awe of the technological advances in the transportation sector, creating hope for that earlier mentioned future characterized by lower emissions, increased mobility, and improved equity, accessibility, and quality of life. But the realities of technological growth were also ever-present – reminding us that there is a healthy intersection between business development and regulation. Without the frameworks needed to ensure safe and effective operation of new technologies, development is slowed and investment lags.

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