New transportation technologies depend on a tremendous amount of data, whether they’re self-driving cars, or connected vehicles that wirelessly share information with one another about road conditions, hazardous weather and work zones.
“Data is the new oil,” said Kenneth Leonard, director of the Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office. “It’s not just tires and asphalt that move transportation. It’s the data. But the data is worthless unless you can do something with it.”
Until Ariel Gold joined the DOT, the data collected by the intelligent transportation systems program was quite limited, and made available months or years after a research project had been completed. In one instance, it took the department 1.5 years to publish 60 days’ worth of data from a connected vehicle test in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that was designed to improve safety and traffic flow, and provide information that semi-autonomous vehicles could use to prevent crashes, injuries and fatalities.
In the two years since Gold became the data program manager for the Joint Program Office, she has convinced state and local governments, private companies and grantees to share more data with DOT and one another. More importantly, she demonstrated that data-sharing through various platforms and websites is possible in real time, or near real time, using existing best practices and technologies.
“Her efforts helped the department and our stakeholders navigate a once-in-a-generation technology shift and redefine the federal role in accelerating the safe deployment of automated vehicles and other emerging technologies,’’ said Derek Kan, DOT’s undersecretary of transportation for policy.
Gold put her data-sharing process to the test during a connected-vehicle pilot project along Interstate I-80 in southern Wyoming, a vital freight and passenger corridor. Severe weather conditions— from blowing snow in winter to fog and high winds in summer—make it critical that drivers learn about road hazards, accidents and other issues as soon as they happen.
As part of the pilot, dedicated short-range radios were installed at points along I-80 as well as on trucks driving the route. The onboard units broadcast other connected vehicles’ speed and location, and alerted drivers about road conditions. Gold worked to ensure the pilot project used open source data-exchange software that increased interoperability and lowered costs.
Gold’s greatest challenge was convincing dozens of competing players in the transportation sector that data-sharing is crucial to vehicle safety. Achieving this goal comes down to gaining trust and proving that what she was asking a company to do was in its own best interest, she said.
In one instance, Gold conceptualized and implemented a platform to share data from Waze, the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app, across the department. In a creative pitch to Waze, Gold demonstrated that other sectors had done the kind of data-sharing she was seeking.
She pointed to the revolution in cancer research, where researchers worked through privacy and other concerns to make data more accessible. More patient data means more cancer treatments tailored to specific patients’ needs. In transportation research, more vehicle data means real-time information about how vehicles perform, which allows developers to create new safety standards and technologies.
The department is now expanding Gold’s accomplishments beyond connected vehicles to automated vehicles. In December 2017, Gold organized the Roundtable on Data for Automated Vehicle Safety, an important step in bringing together the automated vehicle community to accelerate data-sharing to enhance vehicle safety. Gold’s tenacity is reflected in the list of companies that attended the roundtable, most of which are direct competitors: Lyft, Uber, General Motors, Ford, Tesla, Toyota, Nissan, Daimler and Waze.
“She’ll be known as someone who brings together high-level leaders from various parts of industry to develop strategies that will benefit the American people,” said Vicki Hildebrand, DOT’s chief information officer.
Gold came to the federal government from Amazon, motivated by her desire to serve and make an impact. “Serving in government gives you the chance to drive impact at such a large scale,” she said. “It’s an exciting time to bring innovative practices into the public sector.”