Self-Driving Car Tests Will Expand To 15 Mass. Cities And Towns

An Optimus Ride self-driving car (Courtesy)
An Optimus Ride self-driving car (Courtesy)

Self-driving cars will soon be cruising down more streets across Massachusetts — from Weymouth to Melrose to Worcester.

On Thursday, 15 cities and towns signed an agreement with the state to allow autonomous vehicles to be tested in those communities. Per the agreement, the municipalities will work with MassDOT to develop a process (expected by December) to allow for testing in phases. Officials say the deal will allow self-driving car companies to improve their technology and experiment with new mobility services by testing in the region's tough driving conditions.

"We fully expect that we will learn faster by having an opportunity to spend some time on the roads here in Massachusetts," Gov. Charlie Baker said at a press conference Thursday announcing the agreement.

The agreement is also a strong signal to companies that Massachusetts is open for autonomous vehicle testing.

"Come to Massachusetts to test your cars, we have bad roads, worse weather, even worse drivers," state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said.

The 15 cities and towns that signed onto the agreement are: Arlington, Boston, Braintree, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Newton, Revere, Somerville, Weymouth, Winthrop and Worcester.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said autonomous vehicle testing is a priority for him, and will help with city planning.

"If we plan our cities for people, that's who will benefit," Curtatone said. "But if we plan our communities for the automobile, we're going to be a car-centric society for a lot longer than we should be and the impacts will be negative over the long haul. So, having new, cleaner options for mobility is going to benefit everyone."

Boston-based nuTonomy and Optimus Ride have already been testing autonomous vehicles in the Seaport District for over a year. And on Wednesday, nuTonomy was given the go ahead from Boston officials to expand its tests citywide. Optimus Ride has also been conducting tests in South Weymouth.

Ryan Chin, the CEO of Optimus Ride, said the company is excited to move its testing into new environments.

"We can develop new business models on how to create new mobility services that are complementary to public transit, which currently don't exist," Chin said.

The agreement signed Thursday is between the state and the municipalities. It's expected to create a more standardized process for companies to test in different communities. Chin said he expects that process to take three to six months.

As testing of autonomous vehicles expands in the state, officials say safety will continue to be a priority. Neither nuTonomy nor Optimus Ride have had a safety incident, according to Pollack.


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Zeninjor Enwemeka Senior Business Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a senior business reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.



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