Test cities for automated vehicles... coming to a town near you?
“It seems an autos revolution is upon us.”
—Consumer Reports April 2017
From Arizona to Massachusetts, the move toward fully automated vehicles is picking up speed. Since 2012, no fewer than 41 states and the District of Columbia have considered laws pertaining to fully automated vehicles on roadways. At least 13 states have ratified some sort of legislation:
Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia—and Washington D.C.
Governors in Massachusetts and Arizona have issued executive orders encouraging testing on their roads with extensive programs already underway.
Why are states so interested? Are fully automated vehicles going viral? Politicians, researchers and business leaders hope to earn the mantle of “early adopter” attracting research and investment to their region. It could put them on the map. Another major motivator is reducing crashes and traffic deaths:
- 94 percent of traffic crashes are the result of human error. Computer[RN3] controlled cars using Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) could greatly reduce crashes. ADAS is the suite of technologies that are today’s stepping stones to automated vehicles.
- When cutting-edge vehicles or new transportation models (e.g. rideshare, car share, etc) roll into town, governments want to make sure their cities are safe for traditional and automated vehicles alike.
For a worldwide map of autonomous vehicle test cities, visit https://avsincities.bloomberg.org/.
Silicon Valley of Firsts
If any place could be crowned the birthplace of “automated vehicles,” it would be Silicon Valley in California. Home to Apple, Google’s Waymo (now Alphabet), Intel, NVIDIA and Tesla, just to name a few, this high-tech, venture capital hub is 45 miles south of the San Francisco Bay Area. California has had some of the first legislation for testing automated vehicles with safety drivers behind the wheel. It is not uncommon to see cars throughout California adorned with cameras and radar devices roaming the streets. California has legislated that these test miles must be conducted with an approved safety pilot behind the traditional “driver’s wheel” of the vehicle. You can find more information about California’s legislation here: www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/autonomous/auto
Rust Belt Getting New Luster
In 2015, Uber ventured out of its Silicon Valley comfort zone, landing in Pittsburgh to set up the Advanced Technologies Center at Carnegie Mellon University. Pittsburgh offered an environment that the Bay Area could not: snowy weather. PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, has been given broad authority to administer the Automated Vehicle Testing Policy. PennDOT requires the proper onboard technology and a driver must be sitting behind the wheel, ready to intervene if necessary. Of course, the driver still must perform the human-to-human, ride-sharing customer interface function.
Detroit, with its long automotive history, also is leading major efforts in automated vehicle research and development. According to Wired Magazine (April 2017), Ford and GM operations in Michigan have made major advancements – giving Silicon Valley companies a run for their money.
10 Cities Designated as Official Test Cities
In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated 10 proving ground pilot sites for the testing of automated vehicles. The 10 out of 60 applicants were selected for their unique attributes, preparedness for higher levels of testing and previous infrastructure. More at: https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/dot1717. Former U.S. DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx says this designation will encourage cities to openly share best practices while accelerating the pace of safe deployment.
One such test site is the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids corridor. Home to The University of Iowa, this area is known for its state-of-the-art vehicle safety research, including the world renowned National Advanced Driving Simulator. The state is in the process of creating high-definition road maps that will guide automated vehicles and possibly attract other researchers to the area. The Iowa City region also offers diverse driving landscapes and wide ranging weather conditions.
Below are the other sites that were selected.
- City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute
- Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership
- U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center
- American Center for Mobility (ACM) at Willow Run
- Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) & GoMentum Station
- San Diego Association of Governments
- University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners
- North Carolina Turnpike Authority
“When are you going to see a robot on Interstate 80? That is, I think, a very long-range future,” says Dan McGehee, director of the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa.
Arizona Rolls Out the Red Carpet
In 2015, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey created the Arizona Self-Driving Vehicle Oversight Committee. The Phoenix area is buzzing with automated vehicle pilot projects. Google cars are plying the streets of Chandler and Ahwatukee testing how automated vehicles perform in punishing sun, heat and dust storms. The University of Arizona in Tucson is partnering with Uber while the people-mover company Local Motors is testing an automated shuttle bus named Olli. 
MASSACHUSETTS COMMITS BRAIN POWER
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s Executive Order 572 in October 2016 established the AV Working Group to formulate a policy for testing automated vehicles in Massachusetts.
The Memorandum of Understanding requires that automated vehicles be “operated without undue risk to public safety, and at all times will have a human being inside the vehicle while it is traveling.”
While automated vehicles are not yet cruising Massachusetts, the state’s deep bench in research and academia has attracted billions of dollars for development.
MIT, Olin College and UMass Amherst are in the forefront of the tech boom. NextDroid Labs, nuTonomy, Autoliv Electronics and Amazon Robotics are high-flying local tech companies racing to create intelligent, decision-making systems for automated vehicles. A five-year, $1 billion grant from Toyota is being split between Palo Alto, CA, and Cambridge, MA. 
Some researchers and car makers feel the next big hurdle is to create 3D maps of all the nation’s roads. Maybe you can help? Some hope to gather the mapping data through crowd sourcing by using data taken from onboard cameras already installed.
Consumer Reports asserts that “some of the gnarliest issues still must be solved,” such as perfecting sensors that can see in all conditions, and that liability and ethical questions are in the early stages of discussion.
 ADOT.COM 10/17/16