(TNS) — HARTFORD, Conn. — A state task force is preparing for a world in which buses drive themselves, cars carry riders while they work on laptops and autonomous shuttles transport elderly and disabled residents to appointments.
“This will happen fast,” said state Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, and a member of the state’s newly formed Autonomous Vehicle Task Force.
The task force June 17 began planning for a future in which driverless vehicles using artificial intelligence to navigate become common on Connecticut streets and highways.
Staffed with state department heads, lawyers, UConn researchers and lawmakers, the task force is charged with making recommendations on a variety of issues, including safety regulations, how disabled and blind people could benefit from driverless cars and how buses could be incorporated.
Other points include when and if a backup driver should be required, licensing, training, building infrastructure and mapping routes.
“If you remember the internet in the 90s and then iPhones, and now within 15 years we can’t live without it,” Leone said. “It’s how autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence will grow. It’s really the future going forward.”
Although no one expects to see driverless cars on state highways anytime soon, the possibility is approaching as technology improves and states begin to think about what rules and incentives need to be in place.
Connecticut is beginning an innovative pilot program in which four communities will test self-driving cars, conduct mapping and install the GPS infrastructure needed to make it work. Stamford and Windsor Locks have asked to participate.
The Stamford pilot is expected to involve shuttles around the city’s transportation center. Under the pilot, driverless vehicles must have a driver ready to take over at a moment’s notice and must obey all traffic laws.
State Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Wethersfield, and a task force member, said he’s excited to see what the future brings.
“This a very important task force because things are moving very quickly in the computer world,” Guerrera said. “We hear so much in the media on what these vehicles are doing and we need an understanding of where to go from here.”
“We are very excited about this getting off the ground,” said state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton. “You only have to be stuck in traffic to imagine our lives being improved by moving in this direction. I’m supportive of it and there are so many benefits of it.”
James Redeker, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, said DOT has been working on autonomous cars for some time, along with other states and the Northeast region.
“The infrastructure has to become smart too,” Redeker said. “It’s for us to work slowly, but positively on.”
Jackie Lightfield, director of the Stamford Partnership and a task force member, said the Stamford pilot should provide much needed information.
“We have created an autonomous zone for testing vehicles,” Lightfield said. “We are working on a micro transit program with shuttle buses, fully electric ones, to see if they would work in an urban area and our transportation center.”
So far, 29 states including Connecticut have enacted legislation related to autonomous vehicles, and the governors of seven additional states have issued executive orders on the subject.
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