2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight: Unmanned Government - The Autonomous Future

Written by Megan Simpson | March 4, 2014

At SXSW, Samra Kasim explores autonomous vehicles and opportunities they create for entrepreneurs

Samra Kasim has a background in public policy and works as a consultant serving the public sector. Due to this, she injects a unique public sector perspective into the conversation about unmanned vehicles. Together with partner, Matt Caccavale, she has published articles in Slate, NextGov, and Governing. Determined to speak to as many people as possible about unmanned vehicles, Kasim will attend this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival to speak at the session “Unmanned Government - The Autonomous Future.” Connect with her on Twitter @samrakasim.

SXSW: What topics are you covering in your SXSW session?
Kasim: Our conversation will focus on the applications of autonomous vehicles in the US civilian federal government and the opportunities they create for entrepreneurs and technologists. We will also discuss safety and privacy concerns, the workforce impacts of these technologies, and how to maximize their applications for social good.

SXSW: Have you spoken about this previously at any conferences or events?
Kasim: Matt Caccavale and I spoke at the Drone & Aerial Robotics Conference at NYU Law School last October about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the public sector. Our talk was well-received because of its unique focus - we looked at how drones will be used in the public sector to improve our quality of life. For example, something we’ve all recently heard about was Amazon’s Jeff Bezos talking about using drones to deliver packages, which made quite a splash. We’re getting the word out about how drones will be used in the civilian public sector to save lives, conserve resources and provide public services more effectively. There are many potential public sector uses of drones. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama mentioned that 70,000 bridges in the US are in need of repair. Well, drones are an efficient means of inspecting bridges and other infrastructure.

SXSW: What kinds of people should add your session to their schedule?
Kasim: Entrepreneurs, technologists, public sector employees, and anyone interested in discussing how autonomous vehicles may be used to promote social good should plan to attend. Over the last year, there has been significant development in unmanned vehicles technology and regulatory policy. For example, in December, the Federal Aviation Administration approved six UAV test site operators in 9 locations across the US. In 2013, eleven states introduced driverless car legislation. We will discuss the implications of new regulations and advancing technologies and the market opportunities they create for entrepreneurs and technologists.

SXSW: What’s the most exciting part about your session?
Kasim: Drones and driverless cars are hot topics and have many tangential applications for machine learning, big data, and robotics, so I am most excited about a lively debate among the attendees about how we can apply these technologies to solve public sector challenges. During our session, we want the attendees to test their preconceived notions about autonomous vehicles and contemplate the practical realities of addressing existing challenges facing the public sector through unmanned vehicles. By the end of our session, we expect attendees will brainstorm ways to harness autonomous vehicle technologies to meet public sector needs.

SXSW: Have you previously attended SXSW?
Kasim: Yes! I attended SXSW Interactive for the first time in 2013 (and I have a t-shirt to prove it!). The best thing about SXSW is the sensory overload. I’ve never experienced anything like it – downtown Austin is taken over by SXSW and I was literally bumping into folks who have significantly influenced my research. The connections I made and the relationships I built led to significant breakthroughs in our research and ongoing collaborative partnerships. SXSW Interactive made a lasting impression.

SXSW: What do you hope to gain by coming back to Austin for the 2014 festival?
Kasim: My hope is that by speaking at SXSW Interactive, we will connect with those who already work in this space, as well as generate interest in others. We aim for our talk to be a point of connection and foster collaboration among entrepreneurs, technologists, and those in the public sector. Even after SXSW, interested attendees may continue the conversation via an online collaboration forum that we’ll sponsor.

Watch this website for more installments of the 2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight. Click here for the complete list of programming for March in Austin. For tips on interesting sessions to attend, visit the new Recommendation page. Register now to attend, “Unmanned Government - The Autonomous Future” and other incredible programming at SXSW Interactive 2014.