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Here's Where Governments Are Testing Self-Driving Vehicles

Agencies and higher education institutions nationwide are experimenting with autonomous vehicles and robots to provide mass public transit, food delivery and on-demand transportation for people with disabilities.

Just five years ago, self-driving public transportation and delivery services were out of reach for most government agencies. But in 2023, agencies in most states have experimented with some form of autonomous vehicle technology, and its range of uses continues to evolve.

Pilot projects started modestly, first as experiments on roads closed to the public and exclusive to test crews. In the last few years, it’s become more common for AV technology to share the streets or sidewalks with traditional forms of transportation. In many recent test pilots, residents can experience the new technology themselves, free of charge.

More than 100 AV projects hosted in partnership with nearly a dozen technology providers have been completed or are currently underway in the country. Roving artificial intelligence is rolling out in diverse climates and environments, and several government agencies envision it as a key piece of their future public services.

Government Technology compiled a list of test pilot and active projects using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s AV Test Initiative, as well as public announcements from AV companies and government agencies.


Starship Robots.jpeg
A fleet of Starship robots is used to delivering food to students and staff at several public college universities.
The public got one of its first views of a government-sponsored autonomous vehicle in the form of a pint-sized cube that delivered food and merchandise to students, staff and faculty at George Mason University in Virginia. When the partnership began in 2019 with 25 vehicles, it was the launch of the world's largest fleet of delivery robots on a university campus. The new technology became part of the university’s meal plans, as the robots enabled self-driving food deliveries to people all over campus.

“College students understand the benefits of technology on campus and expect it to be integrated into their daily lives,” said Ryan Tuohy, then senior VP of business development at Starship Technologies, in a press release. “Students and teachers have little free time as it is, so there is a convenience for them to have their food, groceries and packages delivered to them. Our goal is to make life easier, whether that means skipping the line, eating lunch on the lawn rather than in the cafe, or finding the time to eat better when studying for exams.”

At least 25 public universities have adopted Starship’s robots into their meal plans. A second AV food delivery service, Kiwibot, began operating campus food delivery services in 2019, and now partners with at least 15 different public universities.


While mass transit projects have primarily taken place in larger cities or suburbs, rural government agencies see the technology as a potential tool to improve accessibility.

In 2022, the Minnesota Department of Transportation launched a pilot with May Mobility for a project called goMARTI to offer free, on-demand rides to residents in Grand Rapids, a city of about 11,000 people. The vehicles are autonomous, but a safety operator is on board for every trip to aid passengers and ensure the vehicle is working properly.

“Our team is committed to ensuring that this pilot is accessible to everyone in the community,” said Tammy Meehan-Russell, project manager for goMARTI. “It implements features such as audio cues for passengers who are visually impaired. It also provides a partnership opportunity with our local First Call 211 service to provide help for individuals to download and navigate the app, place ride requests by phone, and give us workforce development opportunities.”


A Beep shuttle on the side of the road in front of a building.
The Beep AV shuttle is capable of transporting up to eight passengers and a shuttle attendant at one time.
Source: Town of Cary, N.C.
Autonomous, battery-powered shuttle services have been tested and in some cases fully deployed by a wide range of government agencies including universities, national parks, cities and airports.

The shuttles typically can transport up to a dozen people at one time and are manned by an on-board safety operator.

AV shuttle provider Beep said its priority is enabling shared mobility through shuttle services that will reduce the environmental impact and congestion of modern road transportation.

“Shared mobility is where people are comfortable getting on a safe, reliable means of transportation with others,” said Joe Moye, CEO of Beep. “The public transit stigma, that’s something these platforms address as well with the innovative technology, routes and services that people need and want that they can’t access today. We’re really providing new, meaningful mobility solutions that are going to change the way we move ourselves in society.”
Nikki Davidson is a data reporter for Government Technology. She’s covered government and technology news as a video, newspaper, magazine and digital journalist for media outlets across the country. She’s based in Monterey, Calif.