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Last updated: 12/7/18

Autonomous vehicles: Boston’s approach

Learn more about our plans for testing autonomous vehicles, and their potential future in the City of Boston.

The Vision

Zero deaths. Zero Injuries. Zero disparities. Zero emissions. Zero Stress. This is Boston's vision for our transportation future.

Autonomous vehicles offer immense promise to help us get closer to these goals. However, the promise of these vehicles isn't a given. They could displace an important workforce and encourage both sprawl and congestion. That’s why we launched an autonomous vehicle testing program. 

We want to shape the development of technology and policy to deliver on the potential promise — and not the potential drawbacks.

Contact information

Have questions about autonomous vehicles in Boston? Is your company interested in testing? Contact us at av@boston.gov.

What can be achieved?

Safety. Access. Reliability.

During our Go Boston 2030 planning, these were the values Boston residents told us they wanted for their transportation system to embody.

Safer Streets:

The overwhelming majority of crashes on our streets are caused by human error. The promise of autonomous vehicles is to eliminate up to 90 percent of those crashes.

Better Access:

Who stands to benefit most from this technology if it’s applied the right way? Many people, including:

  • the aging population and those with visual impairments
  • those looking to reduce the burden of personal vehicle ownership, and
  • those without access to rapid transit.
Better reliability:

We can reduce the number of vehicles on our roadways through the adoption of shared fleets of autonomous vehicles. This frees up space for other uses, other travel modes, and creates more predictable travel times.

Self-driving vehicle testing

We are taking a graduated approach to AV testing in Boston. 

At first, any company will be constrained in the time, place, and manner of their testing.  Before testing on streets, companies must meet — off-street — our important standards, including:

  • ease of manual takeover from autonomous mode
  • emergency braking and emergency stop functionality, and
  • basic driving capabilities, such as staying within a lane.

We’ll only allow testing during good weather and daylight hours in early phases. Once a company reaches certain milestones, we will allow them to begin testing::

  • in other areas of Boston
  • at night-time, and
  • during inclement weather.

Currently, vehicle testing in Boston includes the use of a safety driver focused on roadway activity. There is also a safety engineer monitoring the vehicle's software.

Current AV testing zones

autonomous testing map
For our initial on-street testing, we will keep it to just a few blocks. These streets are within the City's Flynn Marine Park in the Innovation District. After meeting test plan milestones, partners will expand out of the Marine Park in subsequent phases.  

 

In addition to the testing in the South Boston Waterfront, nuTonomy will begin mapping additional neighborhoods in the City. As of July 2018, nuTonomy has begun high-definition mapping in new areas of the Seaport and South Boston.

Vehicle Testing: Safety Protocols

We believe that safety is paramount in the testing of autonomous vehicles.

The City of Boston and our partners at MassDOT have put together a number of safety checks in the application process and within the administration of the phased testing program. 

Companies must provide:
  • a history of their testing practices
  • documentation of extensive off-street and previous on-street testing
  • compliance with federal safety guidelines for autonomous vehicles, and
  • details of safety driver training procedures.

Our testing partners are collaborative in this effort and often exceed the safety standards put in place.

More safety details

Current testing partners

nuTonomy: on-street

nuTonomy

The City approved nuTonomy (an Aptiv company) for on-street testing in December 2016. This was expanded to citywide testing in June 2018. NuTonomy is currently testing in the South Boston Waterfront and mapping portions of South Boston. 

OPTIMUS RIDE: ON-STREET

Optimus Ride

The City approved Optimus Ride for on-street testing in the Raymond Flynn Marine Park in June 2017. Optimus Ride is currently testing in the Raymond Flynn Marine Park and portions of the Seaport.

APTIV: On-Street

An example of an Aptiv vehicle

The City approved Delphi (renamed Aptiv in December 2017) for on-street testing in the Raymond Flynn Marine Park in June 2017. As of June 2018, Aptiv is not actively testing in Boston through the Aptiv brand. 

Review the related documents section below for more testing details. 

Future partners

The City is interested in exploring partnerships and shared research agendas in four areas:

  • vehicle technology testing focused on Boston’s unique environment
  • business model exploration that speaks to the goals of Go Boston 2030, and
  • experiments with connected transportation infrastructure
  • research and engagement with the public on autonomous mobility and workforce implications.

Please connect with us if you would like to explore the future together.

To begin testing in the City of Boston, a provider must:

  1. complete a memorandum of understanding with the appropriate parties, and
  2. complete an application with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

In advance of the application to MassDOT, a testing provider needs to agree on a phased testing plan with the City of Boston.

City of Boston's thought partners

We’ll be working closely with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, MassPort, and area research institutions. However, we’ve also created two formal partnerships to help us think about what autonomous vehicles could mean for cities:

THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

In June of 2016, Boston was selected by the World Economic Forum as a focus-city for policy and pilot development of autonomous vehicles. Through this partnership, we will work with:

  • the World Economic Forum
  • Boston Consulting Group
  • international cities, and
  • mobility industry leaders.

We plan to develop policy goals and autonomous vehicle testing scenarios for Boston.

TRANSPORTATION FOR AMERICA

Transportation For America’s Smart City Collaborative share ideas, data, and best practices with 14 other cities across the country.  Our specific area in this collaborative is the autonomous vehicle working group.

VOLPE NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS CENTER

The City of Boston is part of the Low-speed Automated Shuttle Working Group. This collection of public officials around the country leads shuttle testing work. The working group is chaired and facilitated by the the team at Volpe. The goal is to share learnings and best practices.