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Technology & Entrepreneurship

Self-Driving Cars May Soon Be Tested On San Antonio Streets

Wikicommons | http://bit.ly/2t5SThr
Autonomous Waymo Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan undergoing testing in Los Altos, California.

San Antonio has been approached by two self-driving car companies about testing on its city streets. According to city staff, Waymo and the Silicon-Valley startup Drive.AI are the first to get in touch, both in the last month.

Waymo is one of the highest profile companies in the autonomous car arena and is owned by Google. Staff members contacted the city last month about expanding their testing here.

“They kind of have a detailed process with their own [Request for Proposal],” said Art Reinhardt with the city’s Transportation & Capital Improvement Department.

The city would need to apply to have Waymo cars tested on its streets, he said. This month,it was reported Waymo had driven 5 million miles across 25 cities in its self-driving cars.

According to Office of Innovation Director Jose De La Cruz, the deadline to apply with Waymo is mid-April.

Texas was named an autonomous vehicle proving ground by the U.S. Department of Transportation in December of 2016. San Antonio, along with eight other cities, three research institutions and 32 transportation agencies applied jointly for the designation.

Fredericksburg Road, from the medical center to downtown, was put forward as an ideal testing route by the city because it was a busy thoroughfare that included cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

Credit Alamo Area MPO
Fredericksburg Road was highlighted as a testing area for autonomous cars.

During Tuesday’s innovation and technology committee meeting, District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez said he would have to be convinced testing companies were safe and he could explain it to constituents before granting approval. Much of the proposed Fredericksburg Road route falls in councilman’s district.

"What I said was that over my dead body would we see autonomous vehicles traversing roads in District 8 unless I have had an opportunity to put my hands on those vehicles and really understand this technology better," he said.

Pelaez said the fact that companies are looking for the city’s blessing adds a sense of urgency for City Council and staff to educate themselves and prepare residents to see the cars on local roadways.

“I anticipate that you’ll be seeing autonomous vehicles on city streets in 2018,” he said.

City Council will consider applying to Waymo’s testing program while exploring projects with other autonomous car companies in the next two months.

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive