A driverless Interstate 5 in 15 years? These tech investors think it can — and should — be done

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Credit: Madrona Venture Group

This week on the GeekWire radio show and podcast, we come to you on location from Madrona Venture Group, speaking to Madrona co-founder Tom Alberg and investment associate Daniel Li. They are two authors of a report presented this week on introducing autonomous vehicles to Interstate 5, and creating an autonomous vehicle expressway between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

Tom Alberg of Madrona Venture Group
Tom Alberg, co-founder of Madrona Venture Group

The report proposed phasing in lanes reserved for driverless cars over a number of years, and envisioned a time in the future when I-5 will be reserved solely for autonomous cars at peak hours.

“Committing to this vision would not only benefit all who use this corridor but would also demonstrate to the world our Cascadia region’s status as a leading global center of innovation where governments and private enterprises can work in partnership to solve human problems,” they say in the report.

Alberg and Li believe the proposal would foster easier transportation between Seattle and Vancouver, strengthening the bonds between the cities’ industries, for a much lower cost than the $30 billion high-speed rail proposed by political leaders this week.

But there are sizable obstacles to this plan, including how autonomous vehicles are received by the public at large, as well as the political response to such a large overhaul of an important piece of infrastructure.

Especially given the infamous “Seattle process,” GeekWire’s John Cook and Todd Bishop expressed skepticism about the prospects for actually implementing the plan Madrona is floating.

Madrona Venture Group
Madrona Venture Group investment associate Daniel Li.

Alberg disagreed. “But we’re also known for innovation,” he responded, “and we’ve got these leading technology companies, and I don’t think we want to lose that reputation. And as I say, you can lose that. So it doesn’t mean you have to be not careful about regulation, but you need to be balanced and see how we can phase this into our transit plans.”

Li said driverless cars are a lot closer than most people believe. “I think the most surprising thing I learned was just that every major technology and car company is betting big on autonomous vehicles, and everyone one of them thinks this is coming in the next five to ten years,” he said.

We discuss the challenges to implementing driverless cars in the Pacific Northwest and beyond on this week’s show, and in this extended podcast, we also dive into Alberg and Li’s take on the hottest areas in Seattle’s startup scene.

Plus, we discuss our app of the week: Allo, Google’s new smart messaging app.

Listen to the show above or download the MP3 here.

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