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Self-driving cars allowed on more Boston roads

The testing of the autonomous vehicles was previously limited to a park in South Boston. Now, the cars will drive around Seaport and Fort Point streets.

A nuTonomy self-driving car in Boston.

Courtesy of nuTonomy

Self-driving cars have been cleared to tackle more roads in Boston.

Cambridge-based autonomous car company nuTonomy has been testing its self-driving vehicles in South Boston’s Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park since January.

The cars, which do have a person behind the wheel in case of emergencies during testing, now have the green light to branch out into the Seaport and Fort Point neighborhoods.

NuTonomy CEO and co-founder Karl Iagnemma said in a statement that four months of testing within the marine park’s 191 acres have yielded “excellent results.” But, he said the expanded testing boundaries will present additional obstacles for the self-driving cars.

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Those new obstacles will include traffic signals, bridges, overpasses and underpasses, multilane roads and a rotary, he said. The cars will have "increased interaction with vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.”

The park that the cars have been driving in has no traffic lights, but does allow for some interaction with pedestrians, cyclists and other cars. Still, the new testing areas will have significantly more activity.

“This development will allow the sophisticated autonomous vehicle software system we’ve pioneered to quickly adapt to Boston’s complex driving environment,” Iagnemma said.

As has been the company’s practice, a nuTonomy engineer will continue to ride along in the car, ready to take over controls if necessary.

If testing continues to go well, the program can expand to allow the cars to drive during more difficult conditions, like in the rain or at night.

City officials wrote to Iagnemma and the nuTonomy team on Monday, congratulating them on the autonomous vehicle testing so far. The letter included the new city-approved roads but noted that use of MassPort roadways is dependent upon a separate agreement with the state Port Authority.

"Supporting safe roadways now and in the future is a vital part of creating sustainable, equitable modes of transportation in our city, as outlined in our Go Boston 2030 plan,” Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Gina Fiandaca said in a statement. “I'm pleased nuTonomy has safely tested over 230 miles, and look forward to the next stage of this innovative partnership."

 
 
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