Autonomous vehicles will soon be on their biggest stage to date, in the nation’s capital Washington, D.C.
Ford announced on Monday a partnership with the district’s government to start testing its self-driving vehicles beginning in early 2019. The self-driving Ford startup known as Argo AI, has already started mapping D.C. Thus far, self-driving vehicles have been tested in mainly small cities or suburbs.
Officials from Ford said they decided on Washington, D.C. due to the District having a progressive mayor and young population, which will likely embrace today’s latest technologies like autonomous vehicles. The District is one of the earliest U.S. cities to embrace other inventions related to transportation such as dockless scooters and bikes.
Ford is planning to launch its self-driving ride service by 2021, and its second city to launch the program will be D.C. after the inaugural city of Miami, where Ford has already started testing.
The government of D.C. embraced Ford due to promising to operate in the entire city instead of just the wealthier neighborhoods. Ford agreed as well to partner with a training center for workers in a part of the city that is impoverished to help hire test drivers to look after the vehicles. Ford added that it would train D.C. residents for careers as auto technicians with a non-profit.
Nonetheless, D.C. will include serious challenges to the vehicles of Ford. Driving in large cities is much harder than on highways or in suburbs. The environment is much more complex due to pedestrians, cyclists as well as those riding scooters.
In 2017, GM, one of Ford’s biggest rivals, announced plans of a similar nature to test its self-driving cars in Manhattan. However, that program has not launched yet.
Washington, D.C. is effectively a city and state wrapped into one, which means that it faces fewer layers of bureaucracy and possible hurdles before it can launch.
The city is convinced that the vehicles will operate safety and the protocol of Ford calls for its self-driving vehicles to include a test driver and a colleague as a passenger.
Self-driving vehicles were put under a microscope this past March when an Uber vehicle hit and killed an Arizona pedestrian. Uber required just one human in those vehicles and the driver had not been watching the road.
That crash brought up new concerns about autonomous vehicle safety. However, D.C. officials will not require that Ford report when its vehicles have been involved with a crash.