Boston Greenlights Additional AV Testing From nuTonomy

Boston has expanded its autonomous vehicle testing program, announcing this week that Aptiv subsidiary nuTonomy is now authorized to test self-driving cars on streets across the city.

Under the city’s supervision, nuTonomy, which develops self-driving vehicle software, has been testing on streets in Boston’s Seaport District since January 2017.

A statement released by the city explained nuTonomy would continue to supply quarterly reports to the city and to update the Boston Transportation Department each time it begins operating in a new city neighborhood.

“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, and offer a new source of mobility to all Boston residents,” Boston Mayor Martin Walsh noted in a statement.

Prior to Boston, nuTonomy spent almost two years testing autonomous vehicles on public roadways in Singapore.

In Boston, the company’s testing started on streets within the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Industrial Park in south Boston before expanding to additional public streets in the Seaport District.

This was followed by a pilot program where passengers were transported in nuTonomy vehicles between destinations in the area. Each vehicle is equipped with a suite of sensors that provide a 360-degree view of the surroundings.

There is currently one other company testing AVs in Boston, Optimus Ride, which is running its own trials in in the Marine Industrial Park.

While the official testing facilities will eventually include all of Boston, the city is taking a gradual approach, with new companies constrained in the time, place and manner of their testing.

Before testing on streets, companies must meet certain standards off-street, including ease of manual takeover from autonomous mode, emergency braking and emergency stop functionality, and basic driving capabilities, such as staying within a lane.

The city only allows testing during good weather and daylight hours in early phases, and once a company reaches certain milestones, the city will allow them to begin testing in other areas of Boston, at nighttime, and during inclement weather.

In all cases while testing, a professionally trained safety driver is behind the wheel prepared to take over as necessary — in the case of nuTonomy, the company also utilizes a test engineer in the passenger seat to monitor system performance.

Despite public and federal concerns about AV testing safety standards, states looking to benefit economically are moving forward with test plans — most recently Massachusetts neighbors Rhode Island and Connecticut.

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced up to four municipalities could be selected for the pilot program if their applications to allow testing of fully autonomous vehicles are approved.

In Rhode Island, proposals for an autonomous public transit service are due in mid-summer, and the state’s Department of Transportation will review and award a contract in the fall, with initial testing of a pilot mobility service starting as soon as the end of the year.

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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