How 8 Cities Are Paving the Way for Autonomous Vehicles

Cities aren’t waiting around for others to test and implement AV technology. In fact, they’re racing to get self-driving cars on their roads.  

Just two years ago, the prospects for autonomous, aka self-driving, vehicles actually appearing on roadways across the United States seemed somewhat remote. But now these vehicles are viewed as inevitable, and the race is on to participate in a market that is expected to grow to $96 billion by 2025.

Cities, which probably stand to benefit most from the technology, are investing heavily. Using strategies including favorable regulation and infrastructure improvements including “smart” roadways, many of America’s largest cities are working to position themselves at the forefront as the AV revolution begins in earnest.

Tucson, Arizona. In a story about AVs, Wired recently called Arizona the “land of good weather and no rules.” Researchers funded by the National Science Foundation conducted AV studies on a test track in Tucson. “Our experiments show that with as few as 5 percent of vehicles being automated and carefully controlled, we can eliminate stop-and-go waves caused by human driving behavior,” said Daniel B. Work, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. More recently, Chinese startup TuSimple, which is working on self-driving technology for commercial trucking, opened a research and testing facility here.

Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix may be the most progressive city of all when it comes to autonomous vehicles. A deliberately hands-off regulatory environment has proved attractive to Waymo (Google's self-driving car unit), Ford and Uber. All three companies are conducting large-scale testing in or near Phoenix.

Austin, Texas. Waymo chose Austin as the site of its first fully autonomous test drive in 2015. Earlier this year, Texas was named an official U.S. Department of Transportation Automated Vehicle Proving Ground for the testing and deployment of AV technologies. Controlled testing environments on the Texas A&M University and University of Texas at Austin campuses are part of the partnership.

Columbus, Ohio. In January 2017, Columbus was chosen for $45 million in grants to update an existing automotive test track and proving ground — the largest one not owned by an auto manufacturer — to test connected and autonomous vehicles.

Atlanta, Georgia. The Georgia Department of Transportation will be using smart technology to gather traffic data on a busy stretch of road in downtown Atlanta, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Autonomous vehicles, adaptive traffic signals and video surveillance will be tested and analyzed for their effect on traffic flow. It’s a $3 million project affecting 2.3 miles of North Avenue, the address of Coca-Cola's headquarters and Georgia Tech University.

Detroit, Michigan. Not only is Detroit home to Ford, which Wired recently called the leader in the race to build a self-driving car, it’s building a major testing ground for AVs on a former industrial site near downtown. Seems fitting for the Motor City.

Akron, Ohio. Akron is working with government agencies at all levels to add fiber optic cables and communication infrastructure to facilitate interactions between vehicles and city systems with the aim of improving traffic flow by monitoring and regulating AV behavior.

Kansas City, Missouri. In a small step toward supporting connected or autonomous vehicles, a startup called Integrated Roadways is planning a smart road pilot with the aim of improving traffic flow and eventually adding fiber optic cable to boost internet capacity.

As with other disruptive technologies, there will no shortage of roadblocks and challenges in the race to get AVs on the roads. But cities aren’t wasting the opportunity to grab their share of funds from governments and tech companies and pave the way for early adoption — and, they hope, the economic growth it will bring.