Atlanta, other cities eye test tracks for self-driving cars

February 20, 2017 by Jeff Martin
In this Feb. 15, 2017, file photo, pedestrians and cars travel along a busy section of North Avenue near the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. North Avenue is being eyed as a real-world proving ground for self-driving vehicles, one of several communities nationwide vying to be test sites for the emerging technology. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Self-driving vehicles could begin tooling down a bustling Atlanta street full of cars, buses, bicyclists and college students, as the city vies with other communities nationwide to test the emerging technology.

Atlanta would become one of the largest urban areas for testing self-driving vehicles if plans come together for a demonstration as early as September.

Nationwide, 10 sites were designated last month as "proving grounds" for automated vehicles by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

They include North Carolina turnpikes, the eastern Iowa prairie and a Michigan site where World War II bombing aircraft were produced in a factory built by automobile pioneer Henry Ford. Atlanta isn't on the list, but city officials nevertheless hope to make an impact.

Backers of driverless cars say they could be part of a broader effort to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, something President Donald Trump has pledged to do. As roads and highways are rebuilt, "we think it would be very, very wise to build modern infrastructure with 21st-century capability in mind," said Paul Brubaker, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Transportation Innovation.

Self-driving vehicles, he said, "should be a national priority."

In this Feb. 15, 2017, file photo, pedestrians and cars travel along a busy section of North Avenue near the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. North Avenue is being eyed as a real-world proving ground for self-driving vehicles, one of several communities nationwide vying to be test sites for the emerging technology. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Trump administration hasn't revealed its approach to the technology, but two U.S. senators this month announced a bipartisan effort to help speed deployment of the vehicles on the nation's roads. Republican John Thune of South Dakota and Democrat Gary Peters of Michigan said they're considering legislation that "clears hurdles and advances innovation in self-driving vehicle technology."

Atlanta has sought proposals from companies for a demonstration of an autonomous vehicle on North Avenue later this year, city documents show.

The street, which connects the Georgia Institute of Technology campus to some of the South's tallest skyscrapers, would be among the busiest urban environments yet for such testing.

In Atlanta, city officials say a key goal is to create optimal conditions on North Avenue for such vehicles to operate.

The goal of September's demonstration is to show how such a vehicle would navigate in real-world traffic, though a driver will be inside and can take the controls if needed, said Faye DiMassimo, an Atlanta official involved in the North Avenue project.

"We still think that autonomous vehicles are sort of 'The Jetsons,' right?" DiMassimo said. "When you looked at all the information, you realize not only is this here and now, this has been in development for quite some time."

In this Feb. 15, 2017, file photo, pedestrians and cars move along a busy section of North Avenue near the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. North Avenue is being eyed as a real-world proving ground for self-driving vehicles, one of several communities nationwide vying to be test sites for the emerging technology. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

North Avenue would first be equipped with devices and sensors, enabling vehicles to communicate with traffic signals and warning self-driving cars of red lights or treacherous conditions such as snow or ice, the city documents show.

Cameras would provide live video of traffic, and computers would analyze data on road conditions, concerts or other events likely to clog streets.

Security is a key concern, however.

"Imagine if these vehicles were hacked. Imagine if the system that controls them were hacked," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.

"I don't think our society is going to want a robot glitch or a software hack to be responsible for mass deaths," he said. "If we sanction robots controlling these vehicles without really knowing the risks, I think the technology will go under when the first major catastrophe befalls us."

Court's group worked with California transportation officials as they developed rules for testing vehicles developed by Google and other companies. Now, Court and others are watching to see how often human drivers must take over to prevent accidents as vehicles are tested in California.

In this Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 photo, a driverless shuttle sits on display at the Riverside EpiCenter in Austell, Ga. Self-driving vehicles could begin tooling down a bustling Atlanta street full of cars, buses, bicyclists and college students, as the city vies with other communities nationwide to test the emerging technology. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Tying together massive amounts of data from so many sources "will pose myriad security challenges," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed acknowledged in a report last year on a related initiative to transform Atlanta into a "smart city." Researchers at Georgia Tech, Reed said, will be key to that effort.

Public acceptance of the vehicles is among the main challenges to their widespread use on city streets and highways, Brubaker said.

He and others see Atlanta as a logical base for the emerging industry.

Atlanta's notorious traffic congestion could lead residents to welcome such vehicles, Brubaker said.

"In any city that has that level of congestion, people have a relatively open mind to embracing technology solutions that will improve the traffic flow," Brubaker said.

However, critics say the cars are not yet able to safely navigate clogged streets with traditional cars and pedestrians.

In this Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 photo, a driverless shuttle bus retraces its tracks while on display at the Riverside EpiCenter in Austell, Ga. Self-driving vehicles could begin tooling down a bustling Atlanta street full of cars, buses, bicyclists and college students, as the city vies with other communities nationwide to test the emerging technology. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
"The technology really is not ready to be used on urban streets, unless they are going to be cleared of human drivers and dedicated strictly to autonomous vehicles," Court said.

"The real problem is these technologies tend to fail when they're around pedestrians, cyclists, human drivers," Court said. The key obstacle, he said: "human behavior is really unpredictable."

At one North Avenue intersection near Georgia Tech's football stadium, "students tend to jaywalk, so it can get a little bit messy over there," said Georgia Tech student Maura Currie, 19. She called it "a hectic stretch of road."

10 sites in US named 'proving grounds' for driverless cars

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated 10 "proving grounds" to encourage testing of automated technologies:

— City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute

In this Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 photo, a sensor, bottom left, is seen on the front of a driverless shuttle bus on display at the Riverside EpiCenter in Austell, Ga. Self-driving vehicles could begin tooling down a bustling Atlanta street full of cars, buses, bicyclists and college students, as the city vies with other communities nationwide to test the emerging technology. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
— Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership

— U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center

— American Center for Mobility (ACM) at Willow Run, Michigan

— Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) & GoMentum Station

— San Diego Association of Governments

— Iowa City Area Development Group

In this Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 photo, Vasilis Karavidas, center, an Easy Mile deployment engineer, explains to Johnny Liles, right, and Adam Ledgister how the company's driverless shuttle bus works while on display at the Riverside EpiCenter in Austell, Ga. Self-driving vehicles could begin tooling down a bustling Atlanta street full of cars, buses, bicyclists and college students, as the city vies with other communities nationwide to test the emerging technology. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
— University of Wisconsin-Madison

— Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners

— North Carolina Turnpike Authority

Explore further: Driverless bus makes debut in Georgia at start of US tour

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12 comments

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dogbert
5 / 5 (1) Feb 20, 2017
The people and companies which make autonomous vehicles really want them on the road and they want them on the road now.

The general population is not asking for this.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Feb 20, 2017
OK, self driving cars are cool and all...but a 'national priority'? That's taking it a bit far.
dogbert
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2017
antialias_physorg,

One wonders why there is a 'national priority' to put millions of people out of work.
snoosebaum
not rated yet Feb 21, 2017
so much invested ! can't possibly be wrong ,,,,,
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 25, 2017
""Imagine if these vehicles were hacked. Imagine if the system that controls them were hacked," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog."

-Imagine if some people actually drove drunk. Imagine if they actually tried to drive while texting, while eating hoagies, while slapping their kids in the back seat, while chasing down the other idiot who cut them off at the last light.

Imagine how AI cars are going to free us from the dangers of the typical human driver in so many ways.
The general population is not asking for this
Yeah we are.
MR166
1 / 5 (2) Feb 25, 2017
Well unless speed limits are raised on most roads and highways there will be serious traffic jams during rush hours. The self driving cars will be forced to follow the law creating serious congestion and dangerous speed differences . During rush hour commuters drive very fast mostly 10 to 15 mph over the posted limits on major highways. When they are forced to slow down, say by heavy enforcement, the result bad stop and go traffic due to the inability of the road to handle the volume of traffic at lower speeds.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 25, 2017
Well unless speed limits are raised on most roads and highways there will be serious traffic jams during rush hours. The self driving cars will be forced to follow the law creating serious congestion and dangerous speed differences
Ahaahaaa you are suggesting that lawbreakers make traffic flow more smoothly??

AI cars are constantly aware of everything around them unlike absent-minded and inattentive humans who drive too slow in the fast lane, tailgate, rubberneck, forget their exits, etc.

AI cars can travel inches from each other. They will communicate hazards ahead and calculate the best ways to avoid them even before humans know theyre there.

And with far fewer accidents and cops pulling over you very excellent scofflaw drivers, interruptions and backups will all but disappear.

AI traffic will run like the corpuscles in your veins unlike human traffic which runs like the snot in your nose.
MR166
not rated yet Feb 25, 2017
Look, I am all in favor of allowing AI cars to have higher legal speed limits than cars driven by you and I. It will induce people to take older cars off the road and reduce accidents.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2017
And also the 1-carlength-per-10mph law which is designed to keep idiot humans from rearending each other and which a cop once told me was actually 3-carlengths.

The best way to cure a human of tailgating is to lead him or her into the back of a semi making a left turn. AI should have no problem understanding proper follow distance though.
MR166
not rated yet Feb 26, 2017
Actually the 10 car length rule has been replaced by the 3 second rule. This makes more sense because it takes the speed of the vehicles into account.

I drive fast and will get close to a car occasionally in order to pass. I have never been in a highway accident and was hit once making a uturn on a local street. That was my bad! When I drive I do nothing else but drive and look way far ahead.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2017
Actually the 10 car length rule has been replaced by the 3 second rule. This makes more sense because it takes the speed of the vehicles into account
Yah I know. I looked it up too.
I drive fast and will get close to a car occasionally in order to pass. I have never been in a highway accident and was hit once making a uturn on a local street
So you enjoy breaking the law and you have been lucky. So what? What makes you think that a whole street full of people like you means better traffic?
That was my bad! When I drive I do nothing else but drive and look way far ahead
Sure. AI also has much better sellf-evaluation skills.
Waaalt
1 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2017
These things have already failed. Smart companies are already backing off because the tech just isn't ready this generation.

Of course that won't stop companies from lining up for government money wherever they can get it.

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