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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Chao’s Volpe Center Homecoming

May 8, 2017

Continuing her long history with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao returned April 21 to learn how Volpe provides innovative multimodal expertise for partners at U.S. DOT, other government agencies, and the private sector.

“I truly believe that automated technology has the potential to improve safety, and this is becoming better and better understood,” Secretary Chao said during remarks to Volpe Center and U.S. DOT New England region staff. “In 2015, we had over 35,000 people die in traffic crashes. This is unacceptable, especially since it is a 7 percent increase over the previous year. There is a lot at stake in getting this technology right.”

Secretary Chao toured Volpe’s car, rail, and airplane simulators, global maritime domain awareness center, and air traffic management center. She also learned about Volpe’s support for automated technologies, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Secretary Chao first visited Volpe as Deputy Secretary of Transportation in 1990 when the center was renamed for John A. Volpe, the former Massachusetts governor and second Transportation Secretary.

“The Volpe Center is special,” she said. “I’m here now as Secretary of Transportation to say that the Volpe Center is indeed one of the Department’s crown jewels. The Volpe Center team—all of you—exemplify the pursuit of excellence and also the pursuit of the future.”

From a behind a podium on stage, Secretary Chao addresses a full auditorium of Volpe staff.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao addresses U.S. DOT Volpe Center staff on April 21, 2017. (Volpe photo)

Supporting Safety with State-of-the-Art Transportation Insights

During her visit, Secretary Chao took part in first-hand demonstrations of the suite of simulation technologies housed in the Volpe Center’s human factors laboratory, which focuses on advancing transportation safety for all transportation users by developing and applying innovative human factors processes and principles to sponsor programs and initiatives.

“When I was here 30 years ago, we were trying lots of ways to engage people on what to do when they come to a railroad crossing,” Secretary Chao said. “We did campaigns to educate the public, supported better signage at crossings—but it wasn’t working. At Volpe today, what I’m seeing is we are finding out how to be even better at improving safety across modes, and how the human component interacts with new automated technologies.”

Secretary Chao also met with experts in Volpe’s global maritime domain awareness laboratory, which develops and deploys state-of-the-art, easy-to-use, cost-effective vessel tracking networks—on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense—to enhance maritime situational awareness in waterways around the world. 

Finally, Secretary Chao learned about Volpe’s air traffic flow management capabilities. Volpe develops and evaluates real-time communication, navigation, surveillance, and decision support systems that make air travel safer and more efficient—particularly by supporting the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen airspace modernization program, and in developing technology that allows UAVs to sense and avoid other aircraft.

“What is so impressive to me and my colleagues is how much you love what you are doing,” Secretary Chao said. “It is so wonderful to see the passion you display and how much you care about your work.”

Volpe: A Center for Public-Private Innovation

The Volpe campus is in the heart of Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, one of the nation’s leading innovation hubs. Volpe is a unique, fee-for-service U.S. DOT agency that partners with public and private organizations to assess the nation’s transportation needs, deploy cutting-edge transportation technologies, and inform decision and policy making through comprehensive analyses.

“We are now in an administration where the President talks a lot about the importance of public-private partnerships,” Secretary Chao said. “Public-private partnerships can yield wonderful, beneficial changes and results for our society—and the Volpe Center is one of the best examples of public-private partnerships.” 

A Parting Challenge for Silicon Valley and Government

With the President planning to unveil his $1 trillion infrastructure plan later in the year, and a rapidly changing landscape of new transportation technologies, America’s transportation system could look very different than it does today.

“Technology is galloping ahead, it’s accelerating at an unimaginable rate,” Secretary Chao said. “But public acceptance lags behind, and that is why I want to challenge Silicon Valley to step up and share with the public their understanding of automated technology and address legitimate public concerns about safety and privacy.”

Secretary Chao also emphasized that transportation innovators in government be mindful of the public they serve—that they clearly communicate the need for and impact of their work.

“I want to challenge all of our U.S. DOT centers of excellence to be kind, compassionate, humane, and take time to address and explain what they’re doing,” Secretary Chao said. “We must make the effort to address concerns so many of our residents and citizens feel about the accelerated rate of changing technology.”

Video Highlights

View video highlights from Secretary Chao's April 21, 2017, remarks at the Volpe Center.

Updated: Monday, May 8, 2017
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