Innovation

Boston becomes latest city for driverless car tests, in partnership with nuTonomy

In 2016, Singapore unveiled driverless taxis, Pittsburgh offered driverless Ubers, and now, Boston is partnering with the tech startup nuTonomy to begin testing its all-electric, autonomous cars.

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Image: nuTonomy

Get ready, Boston: Driverless cars are coming your way. In less than a year, driverless cars were made available to the public in two cities—Singapore, via autonomous taxis, and Pittsburgh, in the form of driverless Ubers. Boston may be next on the list.

On Sunday, the mayor of Boston announced a partnership that will begin testing driverless vehicles—all-electric Renault Zoes—on public streets in South Boston by the end of 2016.

While Tesla, Google, Baidu, and others seem to be getting a lot of attention when it comes to driverless technology, some of the most advanced tech in this space may come from a company you've never heard of: nuTonomy. And it's appropriate that nuTonomy, which developed the tech for Singapore's driverless fleet, will be testing in Boston: The Cambridge-based startup has its roots at MIT.

"Boston is ready to lead the charge on self-driving vehicles, and I am committed to ensuring autonomous vehicles will benefit Boston's residents," Boston's mayor, Martin J. Walsh said in a statement.

The last year has been a wild time for the development of driverless tech, with big announcements coming from Ford, which promises to mass produce driverless vehicles by 2021, and Tesla, which said its fully-autonomous vehicles will be available by 2019. The announcement also comes days after Baidu began offering the public test rides in its driverless cars in the Chinese town of Wuzhen.

SEE: Our autonomous future: How driverless cars will be the first robots we learn to trust (TechRepublic)

There are still no official plans for the public to test nuTonomy's vehicles in Boston. The cars will still be supervised by a "research driver," so they are far from "driverless," said Bryant Walker Smith, professor at the University of South Carolina, and an expert on the legal aspects of self-driving vehicles. And testing on public roads has been happening for years—Google has been doing it since 2009.

Still, it's a big move. Michael Ramsey, autonomous vehicle analyst at Gartner, is interested by the location. "Boston has highly variable weather conditions and complicated streets," he said. "The initial test in Boston will be a tightly geo-fenced area to limit the potential issues that could arise from the test."

Smith sees it as an important step for the city.

"Boston is overdue for this kind of activity, and I'd expect other developers of a range of automated technologies to eventually test there as well," said Smith. "We're also going to be hearing more from companies that are far less well known—if known at all—than the major firms that have captured most of the headlines so far."

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About Hope Reese

Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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