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Photo of Dr. France A. Córdova

Photo by NSF/
Stephen Voss

Dr. France A. Córdova
National Science Foundation


At the
Public Policy/Media Day
Washington Auto Show

January 26, 2017

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

Title slide title: NSF: Discovering the Fundamentals of Future Transportation

Slide words:
Dr. France A. Córdova
Director, U.S. National Science Foundation
At the
Public Policy/Media Day
Washington Auto Show
January 26, 2017

Slide image: computer illustration of moving car

Image credit: ©

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you to John O'Donnell for that kind introduction.

I would like to thank the Auto Show for the invitation to give the keynote address on the opening day for public policy and media participation.

Today I've divided my remarks into three parts: NSF and our Big Ideas for the future of mobility; the importance of basic research to the auto industry; and the significance that scientific breakthroughs will have on the future of transportation.

When thinking about the innovations in transportation from the beginning of the 20th century to today, who could have imagined the technological advancements that we have come to rely on every day?

The National Science Foundation (called "NSF") has been in existence since 1950, and has played a critical role in the growth and development of technology that makes the automobile what it is today. We support the basic research that sets the stage for transformative breakthroughs, some of which are now regarded as fundamental components of transportation.

For example, NSF has partnered with the automobile industry to support Reaction Injection Molding (RIM) research since the 1970s, which has made modern cars lighter, more fuel efficient, safer, and less expensive to operate than their earlier versions.

So, knowing how far we have come, what does the future hold for mobility, and what part will NSF play? NSF is focused on the next frontier, and is driven to support the research that will accelerate connected and automated vehicle technology.

NSF recently identified "Ten Big Ideas for Future Investment." These are bold ideas that NSF is uniquely suited to address. A few of these ideas link to the future of the auto industry.

Slide title: The Human-Technology Frontier

Slide image: illustration of creative teams working on giant digital tablets and communicating digitally

Image credit: Jesus Sanz/

The first Big Idea I want to share with you we call "Work at the Human - Technology Frontier." Society is on the verge of a major transformation in the workplace that is driven by machine learning, artificial intelligence, the internet-of-things (IoT), robotics, and more.

Our goal is to catalyze interdisciplinary research that studies how machines and humans can "co-work" in the future. Our intention is to understand the benefits and risks of new technologies as we prepare for a future of working with intelligent systems.

Slide title: Harnessing Data for the 21st Century

Slide image: word graphic about data science

Image credit: James Kurose, NSF

The next Big Idea is Harnessing the Data Revolution. The increased volume, variety, and velocity of data-capture is transforming science and engineering research and opening up opportunities for new discoveries, made by humans and by machines. NSF played an early, important role in the development of the internet by linking universities through NSFnet.

Connectivity is revolutionizing the ways in which we live and move. Smart cars with lane-assist systems, automatic parking, and a Global Positioning Tool, or (GPS), that avoids traffic are more commonplace. If we can successfully harness the data revolution, we will accelerate the ability of connected vehicle technology to operate efficiently in an increasingly hi-tech environment.

Slide title: Science and the Future of the Automotive Industry

Slide image: photo of Einstein

Image credit: Library of Congress

These big ideas for future innovations are built on the foundation of basic research. Albert Einstein was arguably the most influential physicist of the 20th century. Albert Einstein, however, never learned to drive. He preferred to be driven, walk, or even ride his bicycle. But even so, he contributed to some of the advancements that you benefit from today. A recent study showed that the lead-acid car battery would not provide the energy to turn the engine without Einstein's theory of special relativity, which he introduced in 1905. And GPS, which localizes an autonomous car and its neighbors, utilizes Einstein's general theory of relativity.

This really tells the story of the importance of basic research, which can reveal discoveries that were not originally in mind at the outset.

NSF is known as the place where discoveries and discoverers begin. While industry may fund research over shorter time spans that is more targeted with immediate market-relevance, the federal role is to create the environment for discovery - supplying the support for high-risk, long-term research, which have helped accelerate the advancements made in transportation technology.

Federally-funded research explores advanced, high-tech ideas such as sensor technologies, computer vision, cyber physical systems, and cybersecurity. Successful research will make these innovations a fundamental part of the future of mobility.

Slide title: Artificial Intelligence

Slide words: (clockwise from left) Societal impact; Apprenticeship learning; Language processing; Scene understanding; Machine learning

Slide image: (clockwise from left) photo of three people conferring around a computer screen; photo of surgical robot; computer illustration of a processor imbedded in a human brain; blurred photo of people; computer illustration of brain processing

Image credit: (clockwise from left) Thinkstock (2); ©; Thinkstock; ©

I mentioned Artificial Intelligence - or AI - earlier in relation to its role in shaping the Human-Technology Frontier. NSF has supported persistent investments in AI research, hoping to enable progressive, effective methods for human-AI collaboration.

Previously, AI capabilities were only possible on machines the size of large rooms. Thanks to sustained research, and advances in computing technologies, the power of AI is now more readily available to make life more convenient for the consumer - and for the driver - by bringing autonomous capabilities to cars.

There are a number of areas in AI where we are merely scratching the surface, and need to apply more sustained exploration. Human-machine teaming, or intelligence augmentation, is an example where a human and an intelligent system use the strengths of one to compensate for the weaknesses of the other.

NSF funding has enabled human-technology interfaces that will enable autonomous cars to intuitively respond to the person who is really "behind the wheel." The car system will interpret and navigate their surroundings just like human drivers, improving the accuracy of pinpointing and distinguishing between objects, such as the person who walks out into traffic or the car that suddenly changes lanes. This is one area where humans and technology would work together to reduce risk.

AI technology is inherently interdisciplinary. This touches on another of our Big Ideas, "convergent research."

There are so many ideas coming from multiple disciplines that have helped quicken the progress of AI technology. It takes the input of computer scientists, mathematicians and statisticians, computer and civil engineers, security and safety experts, linguists, cognitive scientists, and social scientists, among others, to make AI a reality.

And just as multiple disciplines converge to create breakthroughs like AI, it takes teamwork from all of us - at the intersection of public policy and media, government and industry - to help set the stage for the connected and automated transportation of the future.

Slide words: The New Frontiers of Transportation

Slide image: interior photo of an autonomous vehicle

Image credit: Carnegie Mellon University

We are on the verge of the new frontier of mobility, and the automotive industry is in the process of undergoing a technological revolution that will transform transportation forever.

Next-generation vehicle technology not only contributes to the quality of automobile performance, but also makes cars safer and more efficient for society. These improvements in smart vehicles may save hundreds of thousands of lives every year worldwide, and increase mobility for the elderly and those with disabilities.

In addition to technology that navigates surroundings, NSF has funded research to develop and demonstrate the manufacturing approach required for inserting self-powered sensors into soft materials such as rubber in tires and flexible plastics in seat belts. These would provide data on relevant parameters such as friction, slip, pressure, and driver condition for intelligent controls.

Advances in machine learning algorithms and in hardware, such as low-power Graphics Processing Units, promise even more widely deployed learning technologies in future mobile phones, vehicles, and the Internet of Things. These are examples of innovation that will revolutionize the next generation.

Slide title: NSF-Funded Carnegie Autonomous Vehicle

Slide words:

  • Real-time Fault-tolerant Computing
  • Computer Vision Algorithms
  • Vehicular Communications
  • Obeying Traffic Rules
  • Verification Technologies

    Slide image: photo of an autonomous vehicle

    Image credit: Carnegie Mellon University

  • In fact, many of those technological advances are included in the NSF-funded Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Vehicle. The car is here on display this week, and includes:

    • Self-correcting, failure-resilient and verified software;
    • Computer vision algorithms;
    • Vehicular and infrastructure communications;
    • Traffic-rule-obeying algorithms; and
    • Safety verification technologies.

    I encourage you to get an up-close look this week at the technology that will shape the future of transportation.

    Finally, as we make advances in automated vehicle technology, we also have a responsibility to seek improvements in safety and security. I touched on some innovations that are designed to protect drivers on the road, but we also need to make sure these intelligent systems are protected from inappropriate behavior or unintended consequences.

    We need further research into collaborative intelligent systems that will enhance safety, privacy and performance. More research will allow the public to become increasingly comfortable with the new technology, and give policymakers guidance for necessary regulation.

    NSF stands at the ready to continue support of innovation that takes us into a bold future, a connected future. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for all of us.

    Thank you.

    Slide title: NSF: Discovering the Fundamentals of Future Transportation

    Slide words:
    Dr. France A. Córdova
    Director, U.S. National Science Foundation
    At the
    Public Policy/Media Day
    Washington Auto Show
    January 26, 2017

    Slide image: computer illustration of moving car

    Image credit: ©