Autonomous Driving Start-Up nuTonomy to Expand its Boston Self-Driving Tests

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【Summary】The city of Boston, Massachusetts has just granted autonomous driving start-up nuTonomy permission to expand its areas of self-driving car testing within the city. NuTonomy will now test its self-driving vehicles in two additional areas that will offer more challenges.

Eric Walz    Jun 03, 2017 11:49 AM PT
Autonomous Driving Start-Up nuTonomy to Expand its Boston Self-Driving Tests

The city of Boston, Massachusetts has just allowed autonomous automotive start-up nuTonomy to expand its areas of self-driving car testing within the city. Boston has a reputation for having some of the worst drivers and most confusing streets of any other U.S. city. This makes testing self-driving cars difficult, so it will be challenging for nuTonomy, as it expands its pilot self-driving car testing program within the city.

nuTonomy began testing prototype autonomous cars in Boston earlier this year in January. Since then, testing has been confined to the relatively controlled environment of the city's Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park, located in Boston's Seaport area, a former industrial site with little vehicle traffic. NuTonomy now has permission to test cars in two additional areas of the city that will offer more challenges, according to The Verge.

nuTonomy's self-driving cars will now head to other more populated parts of Boston's Seaport area, as well as Fort Point. Once there, nuTonomy's autonomous cars will encounter more interactions with human drivers. That includes a more complex array of traffic signals, bridges, and multi-lane roads, plus a greater degree of encounters with pedestrians and other vehicles. This can be a challenge, as a recent Allstate insurance report found that Boston drivers are 168 percent more likely to have a crash than the average U.S. driver.

Developers need many of these real-world experiences, known as training data, in order to determine how to tune its machine learning software, so that one day autonomous cars navigate these challenging scenarios on their own. So far, engineers taught NuTonomy's self-driving cars to deal with seagulls, which are common in this port city. It's the kind of thing human drivers take for granted, but it requires significant computer development work for robot cars to master.

NuTonomy spun out of MIT in 2013, and is based in the Boston area. The company makes software to build self-driving cars and autonomous mobile robots. It aims to develop fully autonomous cars by year 2019. In addition to its Boston testing program, the company launched a limited self-driving taxi service in Singapore last year. nuTonomy's test fleet currently includes converted Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars.

The company reportedly has no plan to build its own cars, but rather combine its tech with a auto manufacturer on one of their vehicles. That means it may follow the trend of partnering with an established automaker to gain access to cars, such as Waymo has done with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. General Motors owns San Francisco  based Cruise Automation and has ties to Lyft, a trifecta that may eventually produce a fleet of autonomous taxis or ride-sharing vehicles.

NuTonomy will need to find a large supply of cars to enact its big plans. It wants to fully commercialize its autonomous taxi service, putting "thousands" of self-driving taxis on the streets of Singapore by 2019.

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