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Silicon Valley has explaining to do on robo cars, Elaine Chao Says

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called on Silicon Valley to “step up” and explain self-driving technology to help the public overcome its fears of robots taking the wheel.

“A lot of the technology comes from Silicon Valley,” Chao told reporters following a speech at a department-sponsored conference in Detroit. “They have a responsibility to educate the rest of the American public on the technologies they’re thinking about, technologies which are miles and miles ahead of most people’s understanding.”

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Elaine Chao, U.S. transportation secretary, speaks during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Chao defended President Donald Trump's plan to remove air-traffic operations from the government Wednesday, saying the system could no longer handle growth and still maintain safety. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Chao said a lack of consumer acceptance could be the greatest impediment to autonomous autos. A J.D. Power survey released in April found that Americans, including younger consumers, are growing more fearful of self-driving cars as they come closer to reality. Automakers and tech giants, including Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo unit and Uber Technologies Inc., are just beginning to test self-driving cars with consumers on public roads.

“My challenge to Silicon Valley is in fact supportive of Detroit,” Chao said. “I want there to be a robust American auto manufacturing industry and I want Silicon Valley to help explain the technologies that they are developing and promoting so that more people can understand how this technology can improve safety, decrease fatalities and help mobility.”

The Transportation Department released guidelines for automated cars in September that called for companies developing the technology to share data. Chao said the voluntary policy is being reviewed and updated and a new version that incorporates feedback from the public and private sectors will be released in a couple of months.

It’s too early for the department to draft formal regulations for autonomous vehicles, she said.

“Too quick of movement toward rules may not be sustainable in the long term,” Chao told reporters. “We don’t want to have rules that may impede future advances.”

--With assistance from Ryan Beene

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