High-Tech Boston Area in Valid Bind on Driverless-Car Tests

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Source:   —  April 01, 2016, at 9:06 PM

But the area, and indeed the all Northeast, has number law outlining how the technology should be driven and tested. And lawmakers who wish to reply are being spurned by leaders of the fast-growing industry, who'd rather have number rules than a patchwork of state laws getting in their way.

With its Colonial-era Str patterns, icy winters, notoriously aggressive drivers and high-tech talent, the Boston region would seem the perfect space to test self-driving cars and ensure they can handle anything thrown at them.

But the area, and indeed the all Northeast, has number law outlining how the technology should be driven and tested. And lawmakers who wish to reply are being spurned by leaders of the fast-growing industry, who'd rather have number rules than a patchwork of state laws getting in their way.

That'south leaving local startups and some of the country'south most renowned engineering departments in a bind.

"I'm hoping that the New England states will create it possible for us to do this work right at residence very soon," said Daniela Rus, a Prof who directs the artificial intelligence laboratory at the MA Institute of Technology, which has partnered with Toyota to advance autonomous driving. "We've more flexibility testing our algorithms and self-driving vehicles in Singapore than we do here. It'south really onerous to pack up your research and move to a space to test it."

In the absence of clear rules, researchers are welcoming an emerging MA map by the administration of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to carve out a self-driving testing ground at a former military base an hour'south drive from Boston, which is a middle for robotics and artificial intelligence research.

But state lawmakers in New England and elsewhere hoping to further boost innovation by letting driverless vehicles on public streets and highways have been getting a clear message from large companies competing to construct the vehicles of the future: We don't wish or necessity your permission right now.

"In the absence of a law prohibiting such testing, you don't necessity a law permitting testing," Wayne Weikel, of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told RI senators at a Tuesday hearing on a bill that'd authorize self-driving vehicles in the state.

Democratic Sen. Joshua Miller, who introduced the legislation, had thought the smallest state would be a perfect space to test the vehicles. Its assets comprise Quonset Point, a state-owned former naval base that's residence to a high-performance driving school and a major auto importation port. But companies that found out about the legislation swiftly opposed it — particularly its provision that'd require a human operator for testing.

Google, Volkswagen and Weikel'south lobbying group — which represents twelve of the biggest traditional automakers — sent letters to RI lawmakers this week saying the bill sent the incorrect signal and is a disincentive to research. They've raised similar objections to laws proposed in CT and other states, arguing that lawmakers should wait until the federal government creates national guidelines.

U. S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said those guidelines are coming before the finish of the year.

"RI would lose nothing by giving this process time to play out," wrote Ron Barnes, head of state legislative affairs for Google Inc. and its parent company Alphabet Inc., in a letter to state senators.

But in neighboring Massachusetts, engineers and scientists who presently mostly work with computer simulations of autonomous driving declare they don't have time to wait as real-world testing advances elsewhere.

"I'd prefer that there would be rules so we wouldn't be guessing what was allowed and what wasn't allowed," said Roger Matus, of Boston artificial intelligence software startup Neurala Inc.

Simulations can't capture all the unpredictable conditions of traveling down a city street, he said.

"In Boston, it'd be the pothole in the road or the person who darts out from behind a bus," he said. "Those are the things that necessity to be certified in order to create self-driving cars work right."

MA is heeding the concerns of researchers and auto industry companies with a two-pronged approach, said Katie Stebbins, the state'south helper secretary of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.

One is to study and create rules that address safety concerns without getting in the way of researchers, she said. The other is to open up the former Fort Devens as a fake city for self-driving cars based on similar sites close the Univ of MI and at a former naval weapons base in California.

The Army base, which closed twenty years ago this month, is occupied by businesses and homes but still has hundreds of acres of available space. The quasi-public agency that manages the property is presently in early talks with undisclosed entrepreneurs, academic institutions and companies about developing it as a testing site.

Four states — Nevada, California, Michigan, Florida — have passed laws allowing and regulating the testing of self-driving cars. AZ does so via executive order.

Nearly twenty other states have pending legislation, many of them based on "clumsy or anachronistic definitions" of vehicles and drivers, said Bryant Walker Smith, a law Prof at the Univ of SC who's written about how states can promote self-driving research and development.

The legislation in MA is unique, he said, and "seems to have been crafted with a excellent deal of customization — or thought — that sets it apart."

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