FutureStructure

10 Places to Watch for Autonomous Vehicle Developments (Interactive Map)

States, counties, cities and universities are all working to put self-driving cars on the road.

by / February 23, 2016
Robby is Audi's "piloted" driving experience, shown here in Sonoma, Calif. Audi

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.

2. Massachusetts

Boston skyline

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.

3. Tennessee

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.

4. California

Sacramento

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.

6. Virginia

Richmond

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.

7. Arizona

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

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

Stanford+autonomous+vehicle

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.

Ben Miller Associate Editor of GT Data and Business

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.