AI on the Move: Recent Federal Funding and Emerging Sales in Transportation

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are all the rage as of late, and one sector where they can provide innumerable benefits deserves special attention – transportation.

On May 22, 2024, the U.S Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Advanced Research Projects Agency – Infrastructure (ARPA-1) released a request for information (RFI) entitled “Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence,” seeking input from stakeholders on how to best approach the implementation and application of AI across all modes of transportation. This signifies an optimistic nod from the federal government as it relates to the increasing use of AI in the future.

On May 28, 2024, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced that eight transit systems in eight states are set to receive total of $343 million in federal funding as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) to retrofit several of our nation’s oldest and busiest rail transit systems to bridge accessibility gaps in public transportation nationwide.

For example, the state of Ohio’s Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority is slated to receive $16 million to rehabilitate eight stations to make the Blue Line more accessible for those with disabilities. When thinking about this in the context of emerging technology application, AI can provide real-time information to passengers with special needs that can assist them in locating the correct train, platform, track, and boarding area.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law authorizes a total of $1.2 trillion for transportation and infrastructure spending with $550 billion going towards new investments and programs, which means there is enormous opportunity for the implementation of new technologies within this sector.

Another transportation-related initiative under the BIL is the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) program, which allocates $100 million per year through 2026. Funding awards will be granted to public sector agencies that exhibit projects focused on cutting-edge technology designed to enhance transportation efficiency and safety. Some examples of technology application for states include connected vehicles, synchronized automation, sensors, systems integration, modern aviation, smart grid, and traffic signals.

AI and ML algorithms are extremely effective in accident prediction and prevention, as they can analyze large data sets, identify patterns and anomalies, and forecast risk. Getting a bit more technologically creative, combining visual technologies such as satellite technology with AI-backed vehicle connectivity solutions can provide a unique approach to a common problem, ultimately bridging gaps in safety.

Last month, the California Department of Transportation requested software to identify areas of risk on its state roadways and track mitigation strategies geared towards enhanced road safety. Subsequently, the state requested generative AI tools to help reduce highway congestion.

Localities also recognize the importance of safety not only for the driver, but for pedestrians as well. We are seeing municipalities implement smart city initiatives that include things like smart crosswalks and pedestrian detection systems. For instance, the City of El Dorado in Kansas is looking to utilize AI for a street condition assessment project.

States have acknowledged their optimism towards AI’s adoption and use, while identifying the need for precautions and appropriate governance. AI has the potential to drive progress in innovation, accessibility, and safety for the transportation market, and this will be reflected in future procurements and acquisitions. You’ll find stickiness with your government customer if you position your tool or solution in a way that helps meet states’ long-term transportation goals, particularly as it relates to the aforementioned nationwide goals of safety and accessibility for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians alike.

The transportation market also tends to be one of the top targets for cyber criminals due to its dependence on the supply chain, high-value cargo, and reliance on technology; and in 2023 we saw a 36% YoY increase in the number of successful transportation-related cyberattacks globally. Transportation-related cyberattacks have the potential to cause severe disruptions to traffic lights and signals, service interruptions, and loss of sensitive and personally identifiable information.

For IT companies in the security space, state and local government transportation customers will be looking to bake in stringent security measures throughout. As the transportation sector becomes more reliant on digital systems and emerging technologies, we will see additional system vulnerabilities which will require the appropriate security solutions that can prevent service disruption and attacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure.

This “secure by design” approach will require the protection of all AI systems and critical infrastructure from cyber threats. Secure and resilient AI software development and implementation will require software vulnerabilities to be addressed, and AI manufacturers will need to prioritize security throughout the product’s entire lifecycle.

While some facets of emerging technology such as Generative AI are still in their inception phase, we are already seeing notable and beneficial application of technologies such as AI and ML throughout the transportation sector nationwide. As both the federal and state governments consider new opportunities for the deployment of these technologies, we can expect to see the emergence of substantial investment opportunities both now and in the future. Technology companies that specialize in AI and ML tools and solutions that have the ability to revitalize our nation’s transportation system will be well-positioned to take advantage of opportunities in this space for years to come.

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About the Author:
Yvonne Maffia is the senior analyst covering state, local and education markets. She applies insights and analysis to purchasing trends to help vendors and partners shorten their sales cycles. Prior to joining TD SYNNEX Public Sector, Yvonne spent 8 years working in state and local government, where she oversaw advisory boards across the State of Florida and served as an analyst to a local politician. Yvonne currently lives in Washington, DC.