The race to put self-driving cars on the road is only getting more and more competitive. In the last year, companies in the field have announced initiative after initiative — Ford tripling its autonomous fleet, Audi beginning to drive its cars on race tracks, and Google beginning to test on public roads in its third city, for example.
And as they rush to pour money and resources into developing autonomous vehicles, government entities and higher education institutions have started competing with each other to be the places where those companies turn to conduct their research and testing.
It's become a widespread movement, with all levels of government looking for ways to make themselves an attractive option. Even leaders in places that aren't the center of research — like Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles — have publicly stated that they want to get into the game. To that end, he announced in May of 2015 a transportation technology advisor fellowship at Los Angeles Department of Transportation, and in August of that year appointed Ashley Hand, formerly the chief innovation officer for Kansas City, Mo., to the post.
"It's about time the car capital of the world planned for the future of transportation in the digital age — moving beyond the car to bikes, ride shares, and autonomous vehicles," Garcetti said at the time. "Working together with my Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds and CTO Peter Marx, this expert will help us answer questions about how LA can better prepare our streets, systems, and infrastructure to make our city the most livable, modern city it can be."
It's places like these — where participation in the movement is only in the beginning stages — and in states and localities already conducting experiments in both policy and technology that will pave the way for autonomous vehicles.
Click points on the map above to learn more about each jurisdiction. Red indicates a county-level endeavor, blue indicates policies and/or initiatives at the state level, green indicates work being done at a university, and yellow indicates a city-level endeavor. This information is also included on page two of our story.
Check out our map above for details on each jurisdiction making moves in the autonomous vehicle space, or visit page two of our story.
States, Localities with the Drive to Go Driverless
These 10 jurisdictions, listed in no particular order, are doing more than just talking when it comes to autonomous vehicles.
1. Las Vegas
After car technology took center stage at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, city leaders saw an opportunity to compete on the national stage to bring those companies back for more than just the annual convention.
At the urging of David Bowers, director of public works, the city council passed a resolution in February declaring downtown Las Vegas — including the infamous “strip” — to be an innovation district. The move represents a symbolic support from city leaders to use the high-traffic area to test out emerging technologies, many of which could be in the area of transportation. Bowers said autonomous vehicles are one technology he’s interested in seeing tested in the district.
That’s not all. The city already sports a small circuit of about six intersections near its convention center where the traffic lights are outfitted with technology that will allow them to communicate signal timing to smart cars, which could help autonomous vehicles when driving near the intersections. Bowers also said the city is looking into setting up an AV testing campus in its northwest area.
Regulators sat down with representatives of academia, as well as automotive and technology companies in February, and asked how they could make Massachusetts friendlier to AV testing and research.
The state’s academic prowess played a central role, with the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory already planning to open an AV research facility in partnership with Toyota. According to the Boston Herald, Audi has also signed an agreement with the city of Somerville to test self-parking technology.
Already home to manufacturing facilities for auto giants such as Volkswagen, General Motors and Nissan, Tennessee could become a test bed for those companies’ autonomous vehicle projects. The state Legislature is considering Senate Bill 1561, which would lay out regulations for the testing of AVs.
Notably, the bill takes a departure from other state legislation in that it specifically asks its regulators to come up with rules for testing and non-testing operation of fully autonomous vehicles — those that require no human driver at all. The bill also proposes a tax for AVs based on number of axles and miles traveled.
The bill is in the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee.
Already home to tech juggernauts like Uber, Google and Tesla, California is arguably further along than any other state when it comes to regulating AVs. The state passed legislation allowing the testing of the vehicles in 2012, and has released a draft proposal for the non-testing operation of AVs on roads the state.
That proposal is controversial — it would require a licensed driver to sit behind the wheel of all AVs, ready to take control. That means no fully-autonomous cars in the short term, a move that has prompted outcry from automakers, tech companies and people with disabilities who want to use the cars to improve their mobility.
The regulation has yet to go through public comment and rewrites.
5. The University of Michigan Less than 50 miles from the automotive capital city of the U.S., the University of Michigan is hosting multiple dedicated efforts to research AVs and add to the public body of knowledge on the vehicles. There’s the Transportation Research Institute, which conducted what might very well have been the first public study of AV car crash data, and continues to write papers peering into emerging questions about the vehicles.
There’s also MCity, a 32-acre driving campus run by the university’s Mobility Transformation Center. The “fake city” features working traffic lights, building edifices, roads and various common items a driver might encounter. It’s hosted testing activities for some of the nation’s top automakers, including Ford and Chevrolet.
In June 2015, Virginia designated 70 miles of highway and arterial roads as the “Virginia Automated Corridors,” marking them as locations where auto makers can test AVs. The corridors also include two test tracks, the Virginia International Raceway and the Virginia Smart Road at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
The state pulled together Virginia Tech, the private road-mapping firm HERE and high-occupancy lane manager Transurban to oversee the project and make it appealing to AV testers.
The only state with AV policy in the form of a governor’s executive order, Arizona has been formally pushing for alliances with the budding industry since August 2015. That was when Gov. Doug Ducey used his power to direct state regulators to support testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles.
The state also took advantage of its higher education system, padding the executive order with mention of partnerships between its universities and private industry. The University of Arizona, which has pulled in students from across the U.S. to participate in its Cognitive and Autonomous Test vehicle program each year since 2013, has partnered with Uber to test the company’s mapping vehicles.
8. Carnegie Mellon University
Styling itself as the “birthplace of autonomous vehicle technology,” Carnegie Mellon University is still working on AVs more than 30 years after it first delved into the field in 1984. Researchers at the university tested out a Cadillac SRX in 2014 that could avoid pedestrians and cyclists, take ramps, merge lanes and obey traffic signals. That year, members of the U.S. Congress rode the car through Washington, D.C.
CMU also works with the University of Pennsylvania on the Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation project with the U.S. Department of Transportation. In 2016, researchers at that center plan to work on advancing pedestrian and vehicle detection systems, vehicle localization for mapping and navigation purposes; and estimating how vehicle automation will affect safety and how much people drive.
9. Contra Costa County, Calif.
Near the city of Concord, Calif., the Contra Costa County Transportation Authority has opened 20 miles of paved roadway for the testing of autonomous vehicles — making it the largest “secure” testing facility in the world, according to its website. Located on a former naval weapons base, GoMentum Station offers private testing to companies looking to try out various aspects of their technology.
That includes connected vehicle technology that could help support autonomous vehicles, self-parking features and a driverless shuttle slated to start ferrying workers around a local business park beginning in the summer of 2016.
10. Stanford University
Home to the Automotive Innovation Facility, which itself houses a research collaborative with Volkswagen, Stanford University has made the news several times in the past couple years on autonomous vehicle developments. Professors and students at the institution have tested out an electronic stability control system in a DeLorean, developed technology that allows cars to avoid obstacles and worked on software to manage fleets of AVs.
Stanford also received $25 million from Toyota in 2015 to study artificial intelligence as a way to assist automated driving.