Anyone who has ever driven in Boston knows that the city’s drivers aren’t the most cautious or courteous. And data backs it up: In 2014 and 2015, Allstate insurance ranked Beantown motorists the most likely to have an accident based on the insurance company’s study of claims in the 200 largest U.S. cities.
This makes Boston the perfect place to assess self-driving cars and how they interact with human drivers, which is why the autonomous vehicle technology startup Nutonomy is expanding its testing from an industrial area of the city to its more populated parts. “We feel we’re ready for a more difficult challenge,” Matthew Wansley, Nutonomy’s general counsel, told the Boston Herald this week.
Since January, Nutonomy’s modified Renault Zoes and Mitsubishi i-MiEVs have racked up more than 200 miles testing in Boston’s Raymond L. Flynn Marine Industrial Park. Last August the company also began offering the first publicly available self-driving taxis as part of a testing program in Singapore.
Now Boston has given Nutonomy the green light to test its cars in the city’s busy Seaport District and Fort Point area, home to heavily visited attractions like the Children’s Museum and the convention center. Nutonomy’s self-driving cars will tackle challenges such as lights, bridges and a rotary, and it will not only have to deal with Boston’s cavalier and belligerent drivers but also clueless tourists.
“The city wouldn’t have approved this testing if it wasn’t fairly vetted,” Children’s Museum spokeswoman Jo-Anne Baxter told the Boston Herald, adding that Nutonomy’s self-driving cars could show visitors in real life the sorts of science lessons the museum teaches. “One of our standard tests as part of our off-road testing,” Nutonomy’s Wansley said, “is we take a stroller and throw it in front of a car unpredictably.” Now that would be a great science experiment for kids to witness.
City transportation officials said they plan to have ongoing discussions with institutions like the museum and may also hold a public forum to familiarize area residents and business with the technology. “Testing AVs in a complex world is critical,” Boston Transportation Commissioner Gina Fiandaca said. “It’s an important step towards shaping what the safe deployment of this technology will look like.”
Wansley noted that Nutonomy has been gathering mapping information on the new test area for several weeks and that the vehicles will have gone through computer simulations of the routes before taking to the streets. He added that testing could begin this week, although it will only be conducted in dry conditions.
Each Nutonomy vehicle will have a pair of trained employees onboard: one monitoring the car’s autonomous technology, and another in the driver’s seat ready to take over the controls if necessary. The cars will also display the company logo and be clearly labeled as an autonomous vehicle.
Nutonomy, which spun out of MIT, plans to develop software for self-driving cars rather than build autonomous vehicles. Nutonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma said in a statement that the new testing locations “will allow the sophisticated autonomous vehicle software system we’ve pioneered to quickly adapt to Boston’s complex driving environment.” And get schooled by some of the worst human drivers in the country.
Originally published by Forbes.com