Companies looking to test autonomous vehicles on Massachusetts roads will now have a much easier time experimenting on a variety of road conditions, thanks to a new regional agreement streamlining and standardizing the application process.
On Thursday, June 21, representatives from 14 cities and towns, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation gathered with Governor Charlie Baker and local technology companies to launch the agreement, which facilitates and expands the testing of autonomous vehicles in Massachusetts.
“The future is literally right here,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, standing in front of autonomous vehicles from local companies nuTonomy and Optimus Ride. “Autonomous vehicles are coming. These vehicles learn by racking up miles and we are collaborating to make sure they get them, and that safety comes first.”
Pollack, Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation Leo Roy, and leaders from Arlington, Boston, Braintree, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Medford, Melrose, Newton, Revere, Somerville, Weymouth, Winthrop, and Worcester all entered into the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
The MOU establishes a common course for companies looking to test their self-driving vehicles in Massachusetts. With a single application, companies will be able to work with multiple communities to test their technologies in a range of environments, neighborhoods, and road types.
In order to be eligible, companies need to have a human driver inside the vehicle at all times, demonstrate that their vehicle has passed a Registry of Motor Vehicles inspection, and prove that the car can be operated “without undue risk to public safety.”
Event speakers Baker, Pollack, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone all highlighted the importance of helping companies responsibly develop their vehicles and working with innovators to generate economic growth.
“We affirm our commitment to dialogue around autonomous vehicles,” said Curtatone. “New technology will change how people get around and move and that’s why what’s happening here is so important. We’re poised to mitigate the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities.”
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council worked to help convene the many municipalities who signed onto the MOU, working with local staff, mayors, and city and town managers to help build a regional consensus on testing.
“Today’s event marks an important milestone in how we as a region handle a new technology with tremendous potential benefits,” said Rebecca Davis, Deputy Director of MAPC. “By signing a regional agreement, we are saying that municipalities can and should work together, but we are also giving them the tools to decide where, when, and how this testing takes place.”