Google's new two-seater prototype self-driving car got its first public viewing yesterday - and the passenger was none other than US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.
The car will begin road tests on San Francisco Bay Area streets once it gets an okay from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Foxx and Google chairman Eric Schmidt took a quick ride in the tiny electric-powered car that dropped them off at an entrance to the Google campus in Mountain View California. The car then drove away on its own.
"This is awesome, this is cool," Foxx remarked as Schmidt and Chris Urmson, the head of Google's self-driving car project, showed him how it worked, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
Later, both Foxx and Schmidt admitted that the vehicle -which has no steering wheel - unnerved them.
"My hair kind of stood up a little bit," Foxx said.
Later at the Googleplex Foxx unveiled his 30-year vision for what American transportation might look like in the coming decades
He listed automated cars, such as the models Google is inventing drone-delivered packages and growing ride-hailing services such as those pioneered by Uber and Lyft.
Foxx warned that if changes were not made soon, the US faces a monster headache of "traffic clogging outdated roads and worsening the wealth divide."
"If we don't get ahead of those challenges we're going to find ourselves stuck in traffic for a very long time," Foxx said.
He added that the Department of Transportation had been working for more than a year on a blueprint to improve US roads, rails, ports and air control towers and prepare for 70 million more people living in the United States in 2045, mostly in metropolitan hubs of the West and South.
His choice to announce the framework at Google, alongside the company's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, “signaled an interest in accelerating and getting the government out of the way of the kind of futuristic transportation technology Silicon Valley is developing,” said the paper.
"We've got to look at our own regulatory framework ... to make sure we're being as nimble and flexible and adaptive as we can be. ... That's what the future is demanding," Foxx said.
A former mayor of Charlotte, NC, Foxx was appointed in 2013 to be the Obama administration's transportation chief.
He is not the first U.S. transportation chief to unveil with a viisionary 30-year plan. In 1977 Gerald Ford's Transportation Secretary William Coleman predicted that Americans would be riding around in autonomous cars that reduce traffic congestion and improve road safety.
"By 2000, the driverless car may become a viable possibility," said Coleman. And there was Foxx, just a few years late, taking a ride in one.