Recently Scott Kirsner wrote an article titled “Can Massachusetts catch up on self-driving cars?” (1/21/2016 – Beta Boston) where he shared his concerns about where the region is with respect to autonomous vehicle research, testing and deployment. While there has been a lot of publicity around self driving cars on the roads in other parts of the country, Massachusetts has been in the forefront of developing this technology. MIT, Olin and Draper helped field some of the early entrants into DARPAs Grand Challenge and Urban Challenge, events to encourage technology development. Volpe, a national transportation systems center, is located in Cambridge and is a leading thought leader in technologies that impact this market, such as vehicle-to-vehicle/vehicle–to-infrastructure communications and safety analysis of advance vehicles systems.
Although currently there might be a lack of regulations for testing and deploying autonomous vehicles, we do have some great test facilities that can be put to use right now. For example the town of Devens, a former Army base now managed by MassDevelopment, is supportive of robotics and testing. There are areas of the town designated and available for testing of autonomous vehicles today. MassRobotics is helping to facilitate this testing, working with town authorities to help them understand the requirements of start-ups and established companies and helping to promote their site.
The state is actively taking an interest in the robotics and autonomous vehicles market, both funding studies to better understand the opportunity and working with MassDOT and the Volpe center to understand the challenges with autonomous vehicles. We at MassRobotics are excited about the potential for the state to take a leading role in the research, development, testing and deployment of this new technology.