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Buckle Up, Boston: Testing Of Self-Driving Cars Begins Tuesday

One of nuTonomy's autonomous vehicles in front of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. (Courtesy the city of Boston)
One of nuTonomy's autonomous vehicles in front of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. (Courtesy the city of Boston)

Tuesday marks the first time a self-driving car will hit city streets in Boston.

The state has given the green light to Cambridge-based nuTonomy Inc. to start testing a self-driving car in a small section of South Boston on Tuesday.

The testing will initially be confined to the 191-acre Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park, which has a simple road layout and no traffic lights. Testing will also be limited to daylight hours and good weather.

NuTonomy co-founder and CEO Karl Iagnemma told WBUR's Newscast Unit that the company is taking a conservative approach to its testing.

"We'll start slow," Iagnemma said. "It'll be some low-speed drives in the less-trafficked parts of the Ray Flynn Marine Park and then we'll progress from there."

A driver will still be inside the car, too, ready to take the wheel if necessary.

City officials and nuTonomy first announced their plans for self-driving car tests in November. City officials say they are interested in learning how self-driving cars can improve future road safety and sustainability.

NuTonomy's testing of self-driving cars is just one part of a year-long program Boston will launch to help prepare for a self-driving future.

Both the city of Boston and the state are developing a policy framework for how autonomous vehicles will work. Officials believe overarching policies will help make testing of self-driving cars and related legislation easier to advance in the future.

If things go well, the testing will expand to more complicated road patterns in other areas, and at night or in rain and snow.

The company is already testing self-driving cars in Singapore but expects to learn different things about self-driving cars in the Hub.

"We're trying to understand what's unique about Boston," Iagnemma said. "Every city is a little bit different. We know that intuitively. We want to find out technically what those differences are."

With reporting from The Associated Press and WBUR's Mark Degon and Bob Shaffer

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