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Obama's $4 Billion Plan for Self-Driving Cars Will Make Google Very Happy

The Obama administration sees a future without a driver behind the wheel.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The Obama Administration has seen the self-driving future, and it’s jumping aboard.

At the Detroit auto show on Thursday morning, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will unveil a plan to develop a national blueprint for autonomous driving technology within the next six months.

He will also announce that President Obama is planning to insert $4 billion into the 2017 budget for a 10-year plan to support and “accelerate” vehicle automation projects.

“We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people,” Secretary Foxx said in a statement.

More importantly, the agency is also committing to setting a blanket national policy that states can follow. To date, self-driving car rules are set by states, leaving the carmakers and tech companies experimenting with smart cars to deal with multiple (and sometimes unpredictable) statehouses.

But here’s the part of Foxx’s talk that really matters for Google: These national rules will allow fully driverless cars.

In an interview with Re/code last week, Secretary Foxx said that national rules would be arriving soon and suggested that they may move to override some state proposals.

California recently released draft state autonomous vehicle legislation that expressly required drivers in the cars, over which Google threw a fit. The Internet giant has claimed that only driverless cars can achieve the safety and accessibility aims of the industry. (Google’s future car business is also likely to hinge on full autonomy.) Its car CEO, John Krafcik, drove that point home earlier this week in Detroit.

As it sets the rules in 2016, the Department of Transportation will enable the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow up to 2,500 vehicles on roads for up to two years. In his talk, Secretary Foxx is expected to urge manufacturers to make some of these vehicles.

From the agency’s release (emphasis mine):

DOT and NHTSA will develop the new tools necessary for this new era of vehicle safety and mobility, and will consider seeking new authorities when they are necessary to ensure that fully autonomous vehicles, including those designed without a human driver in mind, are deployable in large numbers when they are demonstrated to provide an equivalent or higher level of safety than is now available.

There aren’t too many details on those regulations yet. And a bunch of things need to be sorted out in these six months — how states will follow national guidelines; what incentives the government gives and to whom; if and how insurance and liability are regulated. And then there’s Congress and whoever is in the White House next year.

But those in the business of producing autonomous cars will be glad there are finally goalposts and support.

Joining Foxx on stage on Thursday will be reps from the big three U.S. automakers (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler), Tesla, Google and the auto supplier Delphi.

This article originally appeared on

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