Burns is an engineer by training. He earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from GM Institute in 1975 and a Ph.D. in civil engineering from Berkeley in 1978. He was a senior executive at GM from 1998 to October 2009 where he led the company’s research and development. He has been doing consulting and teaching work since leaving the company.
The engineer has been promoting self-driving technologies for their potential to save lives. During his talk at the a National Press Club conference, he referred to the Association for Safe International Road Travel’s statistic that 90% of the more than 1.2 million deaths on roadways every year are attributable to human error – around 3,000 per day.
“If we can solve this one day sooner, we can save 3,000 lives.”
He argues that safety should be the main driver of innovation in the sector, but there are also financial incentives to develop self-driving technologies. Burns says that full adoption of autonomous vehicles could save Americans “anywhere from $2 trillion to $4 trillion a year.”