Florida Races Toward Widespread Rollout of Self-Driving Cars

State lawmakers last year passed a bill that legalized fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver.

by Sarah Peters, The Palm Beach Post, Fla. / March 23, 2017

(TNS) — Now that self-driving cars are hitting the road for testing, the race to have a widespread roll-out in Florida is on.

How and when that vision might become a reality was the central topic of a Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Riviera Beach Marina Event Center on Wednesday morning.

Connected vehicles could have the capability to “talk” to each other and the infrastructure, said Paul Steinman, the FDOT secretary whose District 7 covers the Tampa Bay area. Researchers are working on the use of cellphone pings to help automated vehicles better identify pedestrians and bicyclists in their path, Steinman said.

Steinman said he believes 2025 is the latest autonomous vehicles will be on the street, reaching a critical mass by 2020.

“Our future is automated, electric and shared,” Steinman said.

Florida lawmakers last year passed a bill that legalized fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver.

Proponents of self-driving cars envision a future in which people forego car ownership and the associated costs and instead pay for trips by the mile similar to paying for data in a monthly cellphone plan. Steinman acknowledged it’s not really the technology about which they’re concerned about — rather, it’s the public acceptance.

Uber, the ride-sharing company, is working on that. Javier Correoso, a public affairs manager, said many of Uber’s trips in New York City are originating outside of Manhattan as people realize it is a reliable way of getting to work.

The next step is making ride-sharing affordable, Correoso said. Passengers can split the cost when they pool with others. That helps get cars with only one occupant off the road, he said. The pool option is available in South Florida from Palm City to Homestead.

Uber unveiled automated cars in a 12-mile chunk of downtown Pittsburgh in September and in a pilot program in Tempe, Ariz., last month. The cars arrive with an engineer or two behind the wheel to take the controls when necessary.

Self-driving cars have varying degrees of automation, from a Mercedes with just a few automated features to a Google car that’s fully self-operating, Steinman said. A Tesla with Autopilot, in which people were taking rides after the presentation, is somewhere in the middle.

The Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise with partners is developing a facility known as SunTrax for testing transportation technology, said Michael Shannon, director of transportation development for the enterprise.

SunTrax, on a site across from Florida Polytechnic University between Tampa and Orlando, will include a 2.25-mile oval track for high-speed testing of tolling. A later phase on the 200-acre infield will be developed into a hub for automated and connected vehicle testing.

Automation has taken other forms, too, Steinman, the FDOT secretary, said. UPS, for example, tested drone delivery of packages in Lithia, Fla., in February.

“This is really right around the corner. This isn’t science fiction,” he said.

©2017 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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