Self-driving Chevys are coming to the streets of Manhattan, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday.
General Motors and its subsidiary Cruise Automation will use the country’s busiest streets, teeming with pedestrians and bicycle riders, as a testing ground for Level 4 autonomous vehicle technology. Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt said the city’s density provides “new opportunities to expose our software to unusual situations.”
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The trial, set to begin in early 2018, will look similar to what Waymo and other companies have undertaken in California: Cars will carry an engineer in the driver’s seat and a supervisor in the passenger’s seat. Even so, as Uber’s brief foray onto San Francisco streets demonstrated, a human driver ready to take control is no guarantee the car will obey traffic rules. (On the other hand, GM’s software is probably more likely to let a pedestrian cross the street than your average Jersey driver trying to get to the Holland Tunnel.)
GM is the first company to apply for long-term testing through a new permitting law New York state passed in May. Its autonomous Chevy Bolts are already on the road in Michigan, Arizona, and in San Francisco, where Cruise is based.
While the program has the support of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a local elected official whose responsibilities are largely ceremonial, a spokesman for the mayor’s office told the New York Times the city was “not given much notice” and “we certainly weren’t consulted.” No officials from the mayor’s office were quoted in the governor’s press release, and the city hall spokesman told the Times the city had “very real safety concerns.” Other city officials have complained before that New York City was “missing its chance to lead” on autonomous vehicles.
For Cruise, you can see why New York City, where it says it will bring a team of employees, is an attractive place to locate. But New York’s struggling upstate cities like Buffalo and Rochester would have been better places for a test: less risky, more eager for the attention, and much more willing to accommodate the traffic.
The city-state rift is in some ways a development specific to the Empire State, where the governor takes a schoolboy’s delight in tormenting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. But it is also indicative of the way that local officials are being excised from the decision-making over autonomous vehicle trials as states, and now Congress, try to pave the way for automakers that say the deployment of autonomous vehicles will save lives.