NuTonomy: Boston-wide testing authorisation granted

NuTonomy, the autonomous vehicles MIT spinoff that was acquired by Aptiv/Delphi Automotive for $400m less than a year ago, has received the go-ahead to test-drive their vehicles in the streets of Boston. 

NuTonomy had already secured a permit to test their vehicles around the Seaport area - they have been testing in Seaport for the past 18 months. As soon as the city-wide testing begins, they will be moving from "a 0.9 square miles area in the Seaport to 49 square miles", as General Counsel of NuTonomy, Matt Wansley said. It is expected that the new, extended "playground" will allow nuTonomy vehicles to encounter a greater number of scenarios, collect relevant data, and, eventually, become more adept at handling unexpected situations. 

Mayor Walsh gave a glimpse into his vision of a more inclusive, autonomous future - one that includes autonomous vehicles as a strategic partner to public transport; a clear reference to a concept known as Mobility as a Service (MaaS). 

If deployed thoughtfully, shared fleets of autonomous vehicles could offer the City of Boston the potential to improve safety on our streets, provide equitable connections to the MBTA, and offer a new source of mobility to all Boston residents
— Marty Walsh, Mayor of Boston

It is an interesting time to grant a city-wide permission to an AV-testing company. The decision by Boston's local government comes shortly after a series of accidents involving autonomous vehicles. These include two fatal accidents involving an Uber Volvo XC90 in Arizona and a Tesla Model X in California respectively. Furthermore, Bostonians are renowned for their aggressive way of driving; their well-established reputation is even touched upon in nuTonomy's relevant announcement. 

Boston drivers have a reputation.

Between frequent double parking, spontaneous lane changes, and the famous “Boston left,” they treat the rules of the road as mere suggestions.

Drive a few blocks in the city, and you’ll quickly learn—through creative gestures and language—what others on the road think of your driving skills. Above all, in Boston, we’re always—always—in a hurry.
— Aptiv, in a recent announcement on their website

The move by the City of Boston is, indeed, indicative of the trust that nuTonomy has earned over the past 18 months - a trust largely owed to nuTonomy's spotless safety record, which is mentioned in the City's recent announcement. Moreover, the City's close relationship with nuTonomy can help achieve the goals of Go Boston 2030 - an ambitious transportation plan introduced by Mayor Walsh a little over a year ago, aimed at revamping the way people move in Boston.   

Andrew Kyprianides