The driverless trials will include two passengers: an engineer sitting behind the wheel to monitor and evaluate performance, and a second person in the passenger seat, according to the governor’s announcement. Such tests were recently made legal with legislation passed as part of New York’s 2018 budget.
“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to save time and save lives,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “The spirit of innovation is what defines New York, and we are positioned on the forefront of this emerging industry.”
Driverless cars have zipped around New York a handful of times before, but mainly as stunts, carrying politicians, like Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was driven by nobody several times in June.
The technology has also been gaining traction in other states. Last week, California announced an expedited timeline to change its rules to allow cars to drive without any human supervision by 2018; the current rules permit some driverless cars, but only with a supervising person in the driver’s seat.
But the movement to allow driverless cars has been limited by several high-profile accidents, including the death last year in Florida of a man who crashed a Tesla vehicle that was on autopilot; it is not yet known if the technology was the cause of the accident.
It is also unclear if the demand for self-driving cars exists; several studies indicate that for the most part, consumers do not yet seem to want them.
Nonetheless, companies like G.M., which purchased Cruise Automation last year to compete in the world of driver-free tech, are moving ahead, and officials there believe that Manhattan’s packed streets make the perfect lab.
“New York City is one of the most densely populated places in the world and provides new opportunities to expose our software to unusual situations,” according to a statement from Cruise’s chief executive officer, Kyle Vogt. “Which means we can improve our software at a much faster rate.”
Failing to embrace the emerging automation could leave the state behind, according to a recent study conducted by the Regional Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy organization. But there are risks, according the report’s findings.
The technology, if not implemented well, the study cautions, has the potential to be yet another disrupter — much like Uber, the ride-hailing app that has sent the taxi industry spiraling and ratcheted up congestion in many places.
“All these drivers, they live here, too,” said Omar Faruq, 41, a yellow cab and Uber driver, as he waited for a fare on West 40th Street on Tuesday. “To have self-driving cars, to have them in the street, what are all these people going to do?” he asked. “The companies, they’re making the money. Not the drivers.”