Push to expand drive tests
Automated car co. eyes Sea port
Self-driving cars soon could begin criss-crossing the streets of the Seaport area as testing on the hands-free vehicles steps up in the Bay State and other companies look to jump in with their own versions of the controversial technology.
NuTonomy is seeking permission to shift its testing out of the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park to the greater Seaport area, company officials announced yesterday at a state SelfDriving Car Task Force meeting.
The company has logged 230 miles of tests in the marine park and is asking to spread out under its contract with the city and state. Matt Wansley, general counsel for nuTonomy, said the company’s Renault Zoes have even gone out at night, logging 70 miles.
“We’ve tested multiple times in rain now, including in pretty heavy rain. We’ve tested when there’s snow on the roadway,” Wansley said.
The Marine Park is a secluded part of South Boston filled mostly with offices and industrial businesses. That area has routine car, bike and foot traffic that nuTonomy has had to deal with, but no stoplights. Branching out will really put the driverless cars to the test.
“It will allow us to tackle more complex intersections,” Wansley said.
The company already is exploring the area with a human driver, collecting mapping and location data. The city has not yet given formal approval for the expansion, but it is expected to be OK’d.
“We are pleased with both the progress nuTonomy has made on their testing plan and the unique challenges Boston has to offer autonomous vehicle researchers,” said Boston Transportation Commissioner Gina N. Fiandaca.
“While testing in the Raymond Flynn Marine Park, autonomous vehicles have safely navigated buses, large trucks, crosswalks and even sea gulls,” Fiandaca said.
The expansion comes as state transportation officials said Optimus Ride, founded out of MIT like nuTonomy, has filed an application to begin autonomous testing in Boston. It is unclear when that would begin.
Katherine Fichter, assistant secretary of policy coordination for MassDOT, said the state has been approached by five other auto manufacturers and self-driving car companies about testing in the state.
The state did not specify who the companies are, but Toyota has set up a multimillion-dollar research institute in Cambridge and has been mapping local streets. That mapping data could be used for self-driving cars or just for computer simulations. The expansion comes in the wake of a high-profile crash a week ago between an Uber self-driving car and another vehicle in Arizona. Fichter said the state is monitoring the crash investigation, but noted there is no technological connection between Uber and nuTonomy.
In a quarterly report filed with the city, nuTonomy said it has not had any crashes or “unanticipated failures ... or disruptions.”