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Autonomous vehicles are already navigating the verdant hills of Pittsburgh and the pitched avenues of San Francisco.
They may soon be tested by the chaos of Manhattan, where pedestrians, taxis, buses and bikes embark daily on an eternal quest to avoid impact.
Cruise Automation, a San Francisco-based self-driving software company owned by General Motors, aims to begin testing in New York City early next year.
GM and Cruise are applying to operate in New York under a new pilot programme announced by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
If approved, the tests would mark the first time a fully self-driving vehicle would be allowed to operate in New York State, Cuomo said in a statement.
Audi and Cadillac also have demonstrated semi-autonomous technology in Albany and New York City, but those systems weren’t as advanced as the one developed by Cruise, according to a spokeswoman for New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
The test vehicles will be electric Chevrolet Bolt cars equipped with cameras, radar, sensors and Cruise’s software. GM and Cruise currently have a registered fleet of 100 autonomous Bolts, according to GM spokesman Patrick Sullivan.
They’re already operating in San Francisco, Phoenix and the Detroit area.
In New York, a small fleet of cars will operate in a 13sq km area of lower Manhattan.
They will always have an engineer behind the wheel and an observer in the front passenger seat. Sullivan said testing would start with a small fleet that would grow incrementally to ensure safety and legal compliance.
“Bringing this lifesaving technology to New Yorkers safely and quickly is our number one priority,” Sullivan said.
Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt said the densely populated city of more than 8 million people would give the company more unusual situations to test software and accelerate the development of the technology.
In a blog post earlier this month, Vogt says every minute of testing in a complicated urban environment such as San Francisco is the equivalent of an hour of testing in suburbs.
For example, he says, test cars in San Francisco encountered 270 emergency vehicles every 1600km; in the Phoenix suburbs, they encountered only six.
“Testing in the hardest places first means we’ll get to scale faster than starting with the easier ones.” Vogt hasn’t said when Cruise and GM plan to expand beyond testing and sell autonomous vehicles. But rival companies have said they could be on the road in about four years. AP