If the future autonomous pod you see above is ever going to successfully navigate around town, it’s going to need clearly-painted roads to drive on, flawless traffic signals and functioning pedestrian crosswalk lights. There’s a lot of work to be done—and some cities are starting to come to grips with that reality, reports the Wall Street Journal.
With the industry rapidly growing, it makes sense that cities would follow by trying to capture some of the action. Here’s more from the WSJ:
Across the U.S., cities, states and research institutions are vying to capture business in the rapidly growing field of driverless-vehicle technology. Some are building new proving grounds or expanding existing ones to provide controlled and secluded environments for testing. Others are opening public roadways to self-driving cars, with technicians behind the wheel, so they can be subjected to real-world conditions.
Cities are teaming up with auto makers such as General Motors Co. and technology companies like Waymo LLC, the driverless-car division of Google parent Alphabet Inc., in a bid to become key testing centers. The goal is to convert the partnerships into investments in the local economy.
We’ve already seen some small-scale examples like this. General Motors started work this year with the state of Michigan on a so-called “intelligent” highway; Audi teamed up with Las Vegas so certain A4 and Q7 models could communicate with traffic signals in the city. These are the sort of things that are expected to be necessary for fully-autonomous cars to work seamlessly in the future.
Nearly half of U.S. states have passed laws on autonomous cars to help attract developers looking to test the technology. But as the WSJ story notes, it seems the most cities are looking to do right now is build proving grounds for automakers to test their latest robot cars.
Given its history as the home of the U.S. automotive industry, the Detroit area has been aggressive in pursuing driverless-vehicle testing work. The new American Center for Mobility, selected as a Transportation Department pilot site, is building its testing facility at the 335-acre Willow Run site where World War II aircraft were once made. It will include highway overpasses, a rail crossing and a curved tunnel.
In the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Intel Corp., which has a large manufacturing plant in the city, and Waymo are testing self-driving cars on public streets. Residents can sign up to be test partners, providing feedback on their experiences riding in vehicles that have automated technology and drivers overseeing operations.
Again, that’s all fine. We’ve seen extraordinary feats in the last year alone—particularly the recent deployment by Google’s self-driving car project, Waymo, of fully-autonomous, driverless cars in Arizona.
But even then, that shouldn’t deter from the fact that improved infrastructure is sorely needed. Those Waymo cars still struggle with basic actions like making a left turn, reports The Information. That’s in a small town where the roads are marked clearly. The bigger question—in order for autonomous to actually be utilized across the entire U.S—is how those cars will read and see a shitty, potholed road in the Midwest.
And so, while it’s notable that cities are paying attention, it’s worth stressing just how much is needed to improve infrastructure in the U.S. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave us a D+ earlier this year, and to actually improve things, it estimates we need to spend an additional $4.6 trillion. That figure shouldn’t be forgotten amid the excitement in the industry for how far along autonomous cars have come.