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.
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."
- Singapore launches driverless taxis ahead of Uber and the US (TechRepublic)
- Nvidia, Baidu partner to develop AI powered autonomous vehicle platform (TechRepublic)
- Fully-autonomous driving comes to all new Teslas (TechRepublic)
- More self-driving cars to hit Singapore streets (ZDNet)
- How a pair of auto industry giants are fast-tracking 'level 5' driverless cars for 2019 (TechRepublic)
Hope Reese has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Hope Reese is a journalist in Louisville, KY. Her writing has been featured in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Playboy, Undark Magazine, VICE, Vox, and other publications.