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Technology & Entrepreneurship

San Antonio And Southwest Research In Favored Position As Driverless Cars Develop

Courtesy U.S. DOT

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that the city of San Antonio and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) would be one of the proving grounds for testing autonomous vehicles.

The Texas Automated Vehicle Proving Ground Partnership has 32 Texas municipal and regional partners along with 9 other USDOT designees who will be creating a community information sharing and deployment best practices.

Southwest Research Institute Engineer Michael Brown says the research nonprofit and San Antonio will be uniquely positioned as a result of the recent designation.

"Even though there's not funding that the USDOT provided as part of this particular opportunity, it will set us up later for future funding, folks coming here who want to test.," says Brown.

Credit Uber

Companies like Uber and Google have been testing Texas and other states prior to DOTs blessing, but Brown says the new federal designations make companies feel like they ar going about this the right way. 

"You know a number of folks have been trying automated vehicles out on roads without permission or any kind of safety features in place. What this allows is a sort of safe haven for these technologies to mature over time," says Brown.

It hasn't been determined who or when a company would be testing here in San Antonio's identified public corridor of Fredericksburg Road in the Medical Center. 

For more than 10 years, SwRI has been testing automated vehicles on their closed track, unpaved roads as well as off-road on their campus, but Brown doesn't know if the nonprofit will be testing on public roads.

The Texas partnership boasts the most variety of the 9 proving grounds, from pedestrian heavy, to rural arteries, to urban canyons, they believe this increases the attractiveness to driverless car system developers and car makers to come here.

Dr Chandra Bhat who runs the University of Texas' Center for Transportation Research says the Center's three autonomous cars will be spending much of the first year in operation with a driver just collecting data, but they are looking at diverse road user areas around campus.
"Some of the sights we are considering are Guadalupe, I think that is very good from many standpoints. You have a lot of mixed traffic including busses. But also, some of the sights around San Jacinto where you have a good mix of pedestrians and bicyclists," says Bhat.

According to Texas A&M's Transportation Institute -- another of the Texas proving ground partners -- the designated facilities will open for testing on the first of next year. 

Texas has failed to pass legislation on testing and operating driverless vehicles the past two legislative sessions.