Boston to allow autonomous vehicle tests across city

Local company authorised to conduct trials on all roads throughout the largest city in Massachusetts

The City of Boston is expanding its testing programme for autonomous vehicles and will soon allow the technology to be trialled on all streets throughout the city.

Since January 2017, specialist autonomous vehicle software firm nuTonomy has been authorised to conduct supervised testing on certain streets in the US city’s Seaport district. Competitor Optimus Ride – which, like nuTonomy, began life as a spin-out from the local Massachusetts Institute of Technology – has also been testing its technology in the city, in the neighbourhood of the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Industrial Park. 

Mayor Marty Walsh this week announced that nuTonomy – which is headquartered in Boston – has now been given the go ahead to test its vehicles on roads across the city. 

During the expanded trials nuTonomy “must comply with all testing safety protocols” laid down by the city and the state of Massachusetts. Tests can only take place with a professional safety driver behind the wheel. As part of its testing process, nuTonomy also deploys an engineer to sit in the passenger seat and “monitor system performance”, the city said.

Testing is permitted to take place around the clock, in a variety of weather conditions – including fog.

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The company will need to alert the Boston Transportation Department each time it starts testing in a new district and, as with its existing testing arrangement, must provide the city with quarterly reports.

Developing policy and programmes in the area of autonomous vehicles is a key strand of the mayor’s Go Boston 2030 long-term plan for transport across the city.

“Continuing to test autonomous vehicles in a careful and methodical manner represents another step forward in helping us to achieve the vision for improved mobility that was established by residents during the Go Boston 2030 transportation plan public process,” Walsh said. “If deployed thoughtfully, shared fleets of autonomous vehicles could offer the City of Boston the potential to improve safety on our streets, provide equitable connections to the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority), and offer a new source of mobility to all Boston residents.”

Transportation commissioner Gian Fiandaca added: “Working collaboratively with nuTonomy over the past two years, we have monitored their progress through the testing process and we are confident in the company’s commitment to safety and to our Go Boston 2030 mobility goals.”

Some 14 people were killed in crashes on Boston’s roads last year. Given that “human factors account for 94% of serious crashes in the US”, an increase in autonomous-vehicle usage could help reduce the number of accidents, according to the city.

Sam Trendall

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