Autonomous Vehicle Research: MassDOT Leads the Way

More U.S. states are considering legislation and regulations for highly automated vehicles (HAVs) testing. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have now enacted legislation regarding the testing of highly autonomous vehicles. Only Michigan currently allows the driverless HAVs on public roads; California is considering the same but has not approved it yet.

The federal policy (Federal Automated Vehicles Policy) provides guidance for those developing, testing, and deploying highly automated vehicles. The policy considers current and potential regulatory tools that could be used with these vehicles. The policy also describes the different responsibilities on the federal and state levels, and creates a model for state policy that recommends policy areas for states to consider for automated vehicles.

Figure 1: States with Enacted Legislation for Autonomous Vehicles

IOpicAs of July 27, 2017. Source: National Conference of State Legislatures. http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/autonomous-vehicles-self-driving-vehicles-enacted-legislation.aspx

In October 2016, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed Executive Order No. 572, To Promote the Testing and Deployment of Highly Automated Driving Technologies (EO 572). EO 572 created a state government working group on autonomous vehicles (AV Working Group). The group’s charge is to “convene and consult with experts on motor vehicle safety and vehicle automation…and [to] work with the Legislature on any proposed legislation necessary to protect the public welfare.” The AV Working Group is led by Katherine Fichter, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Assistant Secretary for Policy Coordination and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack’s designee to the group. The AV Working Group also includes other MassDOT staff and representatives from the State Police, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Housing and Economic Development, and the State Legislature.

One Center, at the UMass Transportation Center, has recently contracted with UMTC Research Affiliates, at UMass Lowell, to conduct research on the technological developments, regulatory requirements, funding opportunities, and potential benefits of the emerging AV technology to take appropriate actions for the benefit of the citizens of the Commonwealth. The affiliates associated with this research are Chronis Stamatiadis, Nathan Gartner, Yuanchang Xie, and Danjue Chen. This project will provide baseline information pertaining to strategic planning for connected vehicle (CV) technologies. This information will be used by MassDOT to develop a strategic plan for the development and deployment of connected vehicle technology and infrastructure in Massachusetts.

EO 572 authorized MassDOT, with input from the AV Working Group and other technical experts, to develop and issue guidance for testing highly automated vehicles on public roadways in Massachusetts, and includes a process for companies to obtain approval for such testing.

Highly automated vehicle testing on public roadways is under the authority of MassDOT. Presently in Massachusetts, most testing takes place in spaces and courses outside of MassDOT’s jurisdiction, such as universities, private indoor testing facilities, and the former Fort Devens military base.

As described by Boston National Public Radio station WBUR, nuTonomy, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spinoff company, began the first testing of highly automated cars on Boston roads in January 2017. The initial testing area was limited to a 191-acre industrial park in South Boston, the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park, which has a simple road layout, no traffic signals, and only 3 miles of roadway. At first, testing was approved only for daylight hours and good weather, but then was expanded to nighttime and inclement weather. The company has now logged over 200 miles of automated vehicle driving in the industrial park, with no crashes or incidences. With these results, in April 2017, nuTonomy was granted approval to expand its HAV testing to the Seaport and Fort Point areas. A Boston Globe article discussed this approval and interviewed City of Boston and nuTonomy staff. The Seaport roadways are considerably more complex than the testing roads so far, including more complicated intersections, traffic signals, roadways with multiple lanes, bridges, and a rotary. As before, nuTonomy’s testing in the expanded area initially was for daylight hours and good weather only.

In June 2017, MassDOT granted permission for a second MIT-spinoff company, Optimus Ride, to test highly automated vehicles on Boston roads. As described in a Boston Globe article, Optimus Ride will initially test its vehicles only in the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park, as nuTonomy did.

During their HAV roadway testing, nuTonomy and Optimus Ride both have a human operator sitting in the driver’s seat, ready to take over control of the vehicle if needed. This is currently standard for most on-road testing of HAVs. Some companies use two human workers, one in the driver seat and one in the front passenger seat, to help sustain vigilance and monitoring of the HAV’s driving and the ability to switch to manual driving mode if ever needed. As described in its road test application to MassDOT, after 200 miles of testing, Optimus Ride may request MassDOT permission to test its vehicles with passengers.

In terms of legislation and regulations for automated vehicles (AVs), in her keynote talk at a recent conference on Autonomous and Connected Vehicles held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Ms. Fichter indicated that Gov. Baker and MassDOT have taken the position that it is better not to regulate AVs through legislation. AV and HAV technologies are still evolving, and legislation can be difficult to modify once passed. In the Massachusetts Legislature, there are currently eight bills that have been filed related to AVs. On July 13, 2017, the AV Working Group held a legislative meeting to discuss them and hear more about them from their proponents. The MassRobotics Consortium has posted its notes from the meeting. Most of the bills include guidance for AV safety and for liability in the event of a crash involving an AV, with no liability assigned to the original manufacturer of a vehicle that has been later converted to an AV. Joint bills S. 1945/H. 1829 also request that all AVs be zero emission vehicles (ZEVs), encourage AVs to be for public transit only in areas with dense populations, provide guidance for AV data collection, and propose having a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax on AVs. The idea of a VMT-based tax raised questions and issues at the meeting, related to such issues as geographic equity, fuel consumption and encouraging efficient vehicles, and collection of vehicle owners’ travel data, as well as the need for additional revenues as more vehicles are converted to AVs and electric vehicles.

Among the other proposed AV legislation, H. 2742 requires that AVs used for the interstate transport of goods or for transporting eight or more people be required to have a human operator present who can intervene if needed. Bills S. 1938 and H. 3422 both focus on making AVs that do not require a human operator available to the public. Bills H. 1822 and H. 1897 each request that MassDOT submit a report to the state House and Senate leaders “recommending additional legislative or regulatory action that may be required for the safe testing and operation of motor vehicles equipped with autonomous technology.” H. 1897 requests such a report by June 2017, while H. 1822 requests it by March 2019.

At the end of the July AV Working Group meeting, Ms. Fichter recommended the next meeting would be in September 2017. At this meeting, people from the AV industry will present and provide their perspectives regarding AVs and HAV regulation, and how AV technologies will come to market.

 

 

 

Written by: Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

 

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