Last week, in one of its final acts under the Obama administration, the US Department of Transportation designated 10 sites in nine states to serve as proving grounds for self-driving cars. The selection came after a nationwide contest among testing centers that began in November, Bloomberg reports.
The states that will host automated vehicle testing sites are Pennsylvania, Texas, Maryland, Michigan, California (which will host two sites), Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida, and North Carolina. The winners are:
- City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute
- Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership
- US Army Aberdeen Test Center (Maryland)
- American Center for Mobility at Willow Run (Michigan)
- Contra Costa Transportation Authority and GoMentum Station (California)
- San Diego Association of Governments
- Iowa City Area Development Group
- University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners
- North Carolina Turnpike Authority
Automakers and tech companies will share data with each other and the government as they test their autonomous vehicles at these sites, the agency says. The proving grounds are intended to test autonomous vehicle safety and handling in a variety of road conditions.
“The designated proving grounds will collectively form a Community of Practice around safe testing and deployment,” said former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. “This group will openly share best practices for the safe conduct of testing and operations as they are developed, enabling the participants and the general public to learn at a faster rate and accelerating the pace of safe deployment.”
Under President Barack Obama, the federal government has scrambled to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the automotive world, as carmakers and tech startups race to put self-driving cars on public roads. Most companies predict that automated vehicles will come into wider use by as soon as 2021. Meanwhile, in an effort to bring order to the chaos, the DOT released its voluntary guidelines for the safe deployment of driverless vehicles last fall.
Notably, two of the sites will be in California, close to Silicon Valley where much of the technology underpinning self-driving cars is developed. Another will be in Michigan at the under-construction Willow Run facility, which is being supported by many of the big automakers in the US.
Foxx will likely be replaced by Elaine Chao, who was picked by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Transportation. Chao had a relatively conflict-free confirmation hearing in the Senate earlier this month, in which she hinted that she wanted testing on self-driving cars and trucks, as well as drones, to continue without much intervention from the government.
“The federal role in these sectors is still in its infancy,” Chao testified. “We want to work with Congress to position the federal government as a catalyst for safe, efficient technologies, not as an impediment.”
Where that leaves programs like the federally supported testing sites, or the department’s automated vehicle guidelines released late last year, is anyone’s guess.