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Feds name 10 pilot sites for autonomous vehicle proving grounds

By Ben Ames | January 24, 2017 | 1:44 PM

Research into self-driving vehicles has been advancing at high speed in recent months, with American roads already bustling with robo-cars like Alphabet Inc.’s Google autonomous car, Tesla’s Model S in “autopilot” mode, and Uber Technologies Inc.’s self-steering Ford Fusion.

The technology is impressive when it works, but one question that still stumps government regulators is how to safely test the machines. Leaders are caught between the need to capture a valuable business opportunity by hosting the nascent industry and the duty to protect local drivers from potential collisions with these unmanned, two-ton, rolling science experiments.

For example, while Austin, Texas, and Pittsburgh, Penn., have hosted autonomous cars on their streets, California recently put the brakes on a test program by Uber, and the Cambridge, Mass.-based self-driving car developer nuTonomy Inc. tests its software on cars in distant Singapore. Europe also gained momentum in testing autonomous trucks, when convoys of paired, semi-automated "smart" trucks arrived last year at Rotterdam harbor in the Netherlands from starting points as far away as Sweden and Germany.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation used one of its final acts under the outgoing Obama administration to establish some clarity in this confusing area by designated 10 “proving ground pilot sites” to encourage testing and information sharing around automated vehicle technologies.

The sites are:

* City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute

* Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership

* U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center, in Maryland

* American Center for Mobility (ACM) at Willow Run, in Michigan

* Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) & GoMentum Station in California

* San Diego Association of Governments in California

* Iowa City Area Development Group

* University of Wisconsin-Madison

* Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners

* North Carolina Turnpike Authority

The proving grounds all have different facilities that can be used to gauge safety, manage various roadways and conditions, and handle various types of vehicles. Final locations were chosen from a competitive group of over 60 applicants, including academic institutions, state Departments of Transportation, cities, and private entities and partnerships.

With private industry investing heavily in the race to build self-driving cars and trucks, these sites could soon become crucial centers of development for the future of autonomous vehicles.

 

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