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Self-driving cars get green light to zip around South Boston

The testing, limited to a park, is part of a yearlong program by the city to explore autonomous technology.

One of nuTonomy's self-driving cars parks in front of the Boston Public Library inCourtesy of nuTonomy

A self-driving car is all set to hit the streets of Boston for testing, but don’t worry, it won’t be completely unmanned.

Cambridge-based nuTonomystarts testing its autonomous vehicles in South Boston this week, with a person behind the wheel in case of an emergency. Testing was set to begin Tuesday, but was on hold, possibly until Wednesday, due to rain.

The roadway will be limited to the 191-acre Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park along the South Boston Waterfront, allowing the autonomous vehicles to collect driving data in an area with few pedestrians, a simple layout and no traffic lights.

If testing goes well, the program can expand to more complicated roadways and during more difficult conditions, like in the rain or at night.

A nuTonomy engineer will ride along in the car, ready to take over control of the car if necessary.

The company announced a partnership with Boston in November and was approved by the state department of transportation in December to test its autonomous cars on state highways and roads.

“We heard resoundingly from residents that they want the roads to be safer, and if you look at the promise of automated vehicles, there’s upwards of removing 90 percent of crashes from our roadways,”said Kris Carter, co-chair of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, when the nuTonomy partnership with the city was first announced.

RELATED:Local startup will test self-driving cars on streets of Boston

“Obviously we’re not there yet, but we felt that we needed to be at the table and actively helping the research agenda meet those goals,” he said.

The self-driving car testing is part of a yearlong program Boston is undertaking to explore autonomous technology.

Both Boston and the commonwealth are developing policies for how self-driving vehicles will work and function on roadways.

Mayor Marty Walsh announced a partnership with theWorld Economic Forumin September, to better create policies and support the production of self-driving vehicles.Gov. Charlie Baker also signed an executive order in October to create a special working group to focus on the testing and implementation of these vehicles.

“The commonwealth is home to many world-class innovation companies and academic institutions intimately involved in autonomous vehicle technology, which makes Massachusetts uniquely qualified to responsibly host this emerging field to foster innovation and economic growth,” Baker said in astatement. “The guidance the [Autonomous Vehicle] Working Group provides will be instrumental in ensuring companies can further develop autonomous vehicle technology in the commonwealth and do so while maintaining the safety of our roadways.”

Testing of nuTonomy's vehicles has already been conducted on public roads in Singapore. The company plans to launch its self-driving "mobility-on-demand" service in Singapore in 2018.

 

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