- The U.S. Department of Transportation has launched an online portal allowing the public to track on-road testing of autonomous vehicles.
- Ike and Uber ATG release new safety self-assessment reports.
- NHTSA chief: “The power of the competitive marketplace, nonregulatory tools have proven to be effective in advancing vehicle safety.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) on Wednesday launched an online portal allowing the public to track on-road testing of automated driving systems, as the federal government continues with a sometimes controversial, voluntary approach to improving the safety and transparency of autonomous vehicles.
The portal, part of the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing (AV TEST) Initiative that was announced in June, provides data on the on-road testing of 10 automated driving systems in 17 cities across the country.
Self-driving vehicles are not yet available for sale, and the AV TEST Initiative will help improve public understanding of the technology’s potential and limitations, said James Owens, deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in a press briefing Wednesday.
“The more information the public has about the on-road testing of automated driving systems, the more they will understand the development of this promising technology,” Owens said.
Companies participating in the program are Beep, Cruise, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Local Motors, Navya, Nuro, Toyota, Uber and Waymo. Participating cities include Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; and Washington.
The project is in the pilot phase, and more companies will join as the portal expands, officials said during the briefing. Participation is voluntary.
Go-to-market efforts expand
The release of the tracking tool comes as AV companies are emerging from a troubled period to expand testing and commercialization efforts.
At least a dozen AV companies are operating their vehicles on public roads, with self-driving truck and delivery companies leading the way. Trucks outfitted with autonomous technology from TuSimple, Kodiak, Waymo and Embark are operating today (with a safety driver behind the wheel) on city streets or highways. Many are hauling cargo in partnerships with consumer brands and manufacturers.
Joining those companies in a few weeks is Ike, one of the only autonomous trucking outfits that has so far tested only in simulation. Ike announced Tuesday that it was partnering with three major logistics customers to deploy highly automated trucks for highway driving, and the performance of its system is now at the point where it has become valuable to test on public roads, CEO and co-founder Alden Woodrow told FreightWaves.
Ike is not part of the pilot but supports the initiative, Woodrow said. Representatives from Kodiak and TuSimple echoed those sentiments. “We’re on deck” once the pilot phase is completed, said Kodiak policy director Daniel Goff.
Feds take nonregulatory approach to AV policy
In recent months, a growing chorus of investors and industry players has identified lack of a unified and coherent federal policy as one of the primary obstacles to AV adoption. The new tool is a step in that direction and is in sync with prior government efforts that take a market-driven, nonregulatory approach to AV policy.
In another volunteer partnership, AV companies can submit safety self-assessment reports to NHTSA explaining how they are developing and testing their autonomous vehicle technology.
A few weeks ago Ike released the second version of its safety report, a technical document that explains some of the developments around the hundreds of benchmarks the system is meeting in order to enable Ike to test on public roads, Woodrow said.
Also releasing an updated safety self-assessment is Uber ATG, the self-driving arm of the tech transportation giant. That report focuses on the company’s new organizational approach to safety, a complete overhaul of Uber’s safety program implemented following a fatal collision involving an Uber vehicle in 2018.
These reports and voluntary efforts in general have attracted criticism from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent federal agency, and other safety groups, which assert the reports’ voluntary nature undermines industry credibility and claims of transparency.
Owen countered those concerns during Wednesday’s press briefing. “The power of the competitive marketplace, nonregulatory tools have proven to be effective in advancing vehicle safety,” he said, and “given the speed with which AV technology is evolving, “a volunteer partnership with industry and the States has allowed us to get this information to the public quickly and efficiently.”
The interactive AV TEST portal lets users click on a map to see information about the companies and vehicles testing in that location. The tool is available at www.nhtsa.gov/avtest.