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In an Effort to Grow AV Industry, Watch for Blooming Partnerships

The Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing (AV TEST) is an initiative by the U.S. Department of Transportation to grow AV technology through information-sharing and development of best-practices.

Attendees look at the new self driving shuttle at its kickoff at the Douglas Recreation Center Feb. 5. [Eric Albrecht/Dispatch]
Developers of autonomous vehicle technologies are coming together in an information-sharing project. 

The Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing (AV TEST) initiative is led by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and involves a number of private sector companies like Toyota, Uber, Waymo, as well as Cruise, Fiat Chrysler and Navya. It will also involve public-sector partners across the following states: Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

The project brings together the public-sector and private-sectors sides of the autonomous vehicle community for networking, information-sharing and the development of best practices around safety, public policy and other areas. 

“In the simplest of ways to look at this, it’s the opportunity for all of us to kind of aggregate all these various use-cases, scenarios and test results, in a way we all can benefit from solving how we can continue to advance these autonomous technologies,” said Joe Moye, CEO of Beep, a mobility-as-a-service provider specializing in deploying small, electric AV shuttles along fixed-route, geo-fenced settings in an interview with Government Technology earlier this summer.

"For us to advance as a business, we need the industry to be successful," he added, noting the development of the AV industry can benefit from more cooperation among all players. "If we don’t work together, our market isn’t going to expand at the level we all want it to expand at in order to capitalize on the growth of the collective group instead of the individual component parts.” 

Last year, Florida signed legislation to clear the path for AV testing and deployment of next-gen transportation technologies. 

“As Florida continues to grow, it is essential to provide a transportation system that meets the needs of our residents and visitors," said Kevin J. Thibault, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary, in a statement. "Florida’s engagement in this initiative shows the continued commitment to improving safety, enhancing mobility and inspiring innovation on our state’s roadways.”

The automated driving conversation has taken several twists and turns in recent years, as technology watchers have gone from declaring fully autonomous vehicles the next big thing -- and a reality on roadways by the mid-2020s -- to more pragmatic applications in areas like deliveries and transit.

The future of autonomy will likely evolve in “geo-fenced hyper-located in urban cores for right now,” said Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes, a Republican representing southeast Florida, describing some of the more successful use-cases for AVs being explored by companies like Beep. 

“But then ultimately grow out, mile-by-mile to much larger regions,” Brandes, an advocate for next gen-mobility technology, told John Rossant, CEO of CoMotion, during the CoMotion Miami conference.

Nir Erez, founder and CEO of Moovit, which is now teamed up with AV technology maker Mobileye, and is developing a “robo-taxi” operation, anticipates a system to pair shared AVs with transit for last-mile travel.

"I definitely believe that the early stage of robo-taxis will be focused on what we call, public transit. Not private AVs. The utilization of the vehicle is dramatically higher when you use it for public services, or ride-hailing or car-sharing,” Erez told Rossant in a keynote conversation at the CoMotion conference. “From what I know right now, most of the [robo-taxi] services around the world will focus on a public transit service rather than a private AV.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.