Innovation Files has moved! For ITIF's quick takes, quips, and commentary on the latest in tech policy, go to


ARPA-E Still Pushing Boundaries of Clean Energy in Fragile Budget Environment

Last week, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) announced support for 33 new projects aimed at developing an affordable and scalable clean energy transportation sector. The projects are the latest round of public investment from ARPA-E in high-risk, high-reward low-carbon energy innovations that could be game-changing in the fight to address climate change. The projects are notable because Washington’s current fragile budget and policy environment – a dangerous combination of sequestration, budget cuts, and an overall negative view of energy innovation – puts ARPA-E’s funding at risk for the next fiscal year.

First, let’s look at the programs. ARPA-E takes investing in new sectors of energy innovation seriously – ARPA-E’s due-diligence includes a small, but dedicated government staff, interaction with industry to understand emerging research problems, and a constant influx of new program managers. Program managers are brought in on three year temporary terms to carry out their investments. ARPA-E’s Deputy Director Cheryl Martin explained this is important because the “three year cycle doesn’t allow us to drink our own cool-aide.” In other words, it prevents stagnation of investments and allows for fresh approaches to energy innovation.


Read the rest
Chris Urmson Presenting

ITIF Event Highlights the Social and Economic Case for Autonomous Vehicles

On Capitol Hill yesterday, ITIF hosted an event making the social and economic case for autonomous vehicles. The event featured presenters from Toyota, Google, and Texas Instruments, as well as DC Councilmember Mary Cheh, who introduced the Autonomous Vehicles Act of 2012, which authorizes autonomous vehicles to operate on the District’s roadways. (Similar legislation has also been enacted in California, Florida, and Nevada and introduced in nine other states.) Collectively, the panelists made the case that the advent of automated driving (i.e. driver assistance) technologies—and ultimately fully autonomous vehicles—is poised to deliver tremendous safety, personal mobility, environmental, productivity and efficiency, and economic benefits.

Regarding safety, with human error the definite or probable cause of 93 percent of traffic accidents, autonomous vehicles could dramatically reduce accident incidence because they will obey all traffic laws, won’t speed, and won’t drive while distracted, tired, texting, or inebriated. This could significantly ameliorate the over 4 million traffic accidents which occur annually on U.S. roadways and which cause more than 35,000 traffic fatalities (almost 100/day) and an estimated $450 billion in economic losses. In the meantime, a range of automated driver assistance technologies,

Read the rest

traffic jam in rear view mirror

Cato Versus Cato: VMT Tax Yes; VMT Tax No

I had the (dubious) pleasure to be on Larry Kudlow’s show last night on CNBC, debating the Cato Institute’s Daniel Mitchell (as well as it turned out, Kudlow) on whether government should institute a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax system to replace the gas tax. First some background: A VMT system is increasingly the policy recommendation favored by most transportation policy experts and transportation organizations. One such organization is the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, a body created by Congress to “assess future federal highway and transit investment needs, evaluate the future of the federal Highway Trust Fund, and explore alternative funding and financing mechanisms for surface transportation.”

I had the pleasure to be appointed to the Commission by the Bush Administration (and then to be elected Chair by the Commission members).  The Commission wrote:

“The Commission cast a wide net, reviewed many funding alternatives, and concluded that indeed the most viable approach to efficiently fund federal investment in surface transportation in the medium to long run will be a user charge system based more directly on miles driven (and potentially on factors such as time of day, type

Read the rest