FutureStructure

Self-Driving Cars Coming to Boston Streets This Year

In the next month and a half, Cambridge-based nuTonomy will begin running self-driving cars in the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park in South Boston.

by Jordan Graham, Boston Herald / November 22, 2016

(TNS) -- Self-driving cars will be hitting Boston streets before the end of the year, under a deal between City Hall and a Cambridge startup to test autonomous vehicles in a small — but public — part of the city.

In the next month and a half, Cambridge-based nuTonomy will begin running self-driving cars in the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park in South Boston, the company and Boston officials said.

“Boston is ready to lead the charge on self-driving vehicles, and as mayor of Boston, I am committed to ensuring autonomous vehicles will benefit Boston’s residents,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said.

The Marine Park is a 191-acre complex on the waterfront that includes industrial businesses such as seafood warehouses, but also a growing number of high-tech companies. The area includes many bicyclists and is served by the Silver Line, both of which will be challenges to self-driving cars on top of Boston’s innate confusing streets and unpredictable weather.

“We’re trying to convince ourselves that we can drive autonomously in a safe manner from any two points,” said Karl Iagnemma, chief executive of nuTonomy. “Boston is a great test environment because it really exposes you to the reality of driving in the U.S. It has all the things we’re going to have to be able to successfully cope with.”

NuTonomy plans to drive one modified Renault Zoe around the complex, testing its software to automatically start, stop and steer. The company may add more cars later.

In an agreement signed by nuTonomy, the city and state, the cars must have a trained driver behind the wheel — ready to take over in case of emergency — and be inspected by state officials. NuTonomy must also fill out a formal application and be cleared by the state Department of Transportation before it can begin testing. The state will review nuTonomy’s safety record, experience, insurance and testing proposal before issuing any approval.

But while nuTonomy waits for the official go-ahead, it has already started the mapping and data collection process, a necessary step so software in self-driving cars knows what the streets look like.

Across the state, other companies are working on their own tests — but none on public streets yet. Toyota has been mapping Cambridge streets, while startup Optimus Ride has been testing on private property in and out of Boston. The state has also converted part of Devens into a self-driving car test facility.

Kris Carter, co-chairman of Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, said as nuTonomy successfully tests its vehicles, the company will be allowed to operate in more difficult weather conditions and eventually in other parts of the city.

NuTonomy is based in Cambridge and is based on research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but has been running tests in Singapore for months as a taxi service. In October, a nuTonomy car was involved in a minor crash there with no injuries, and briefly suspended its service. Uber is also running self-driving cars in Pittsburgh.

City Hall sees self-driving cars as a step toward reducing emissions and cutting down on traffic fatalities.

“Autonomous vehicles are as close to a silver bullet as we’ve seen,” Carter said. “This is the first partner, there will likely be more, this is just the beginning of the future of transportation.”

©2016 the Boston Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.