December 19, 2018
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Portland selected as test site for self-driving car pilot project

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Portland has been selected as one of seven cities and transit agencies to test a new self-driving car platform that will help the autonomous vehicles navigate local roads.

Maine’s largest city has been selected as one of seven cities and transit agencies to test a pilot program for self-driving cars, Portland officials announced Tuesday.

INRIX, a Washington-based tech firm, on Tuesday unveiled its new platform, AV Road Rules, that will give transportation officials the tools to manage self-driving cars operating on public roads.

“This is just the beginning for Portland,” Portland City Manager Jon Jennings said in a statement. “We are truly poised for additional growth in the technology sector, and mapping our city for [self-driving vehicle] usage is just the latest in a string of developments in which Portland is leading as a smart city and innovation hub of the East Coast.”

Portland will work with INRIX to map the city as part of the pilot’s first phase, with a focus on managing an increase in traffic congestion on Franklin and Commercial streets.

Jennings told the Portland Press Herald that he envisions self-driving shuttles operating in the city to bring visitors and commuters from remote parking areas into the city, reducing traffic and parking congestion.

While self-driving cars use a mixture of software and sensors to detect objects and road signs as they navigate streets, Avery Ash, head of autonomous mobility for INRIX, told Forbes magazine that it’s a time-consuming and resource-intensive process that doesn’t always yield precise results.

“If there’s a highly automated vehicle pulling up to an intersection and it’s 50 percent sure there’s a stop sign, 25 percent sure there’s a yield sign and 25 percent sure there’s a do not enter sign, that’s basically useless,” Ash told Forbes.

With the data INRIX collects, Portland can create a local guide for self-driving cars that provides information on road conditions and restrictions like speed limits, crosswalks, school zones and stop signs, allowing the autonomous vehicles to navigate streets more safely.

“Cities will be able to go through the process of validating and managing their traffic rules,” Ash told Forbes. “And vehicle operators don’t have to only rely on sensor-based machine learning methods of learning the rules of the road.”

The platform also will feed information about road conditions to transportation officials, allowing them to identify infrastructure needs and make roads safer.

“If deployed correctly, autonomous vehicles will radically improve our transportation systems, making them safer, more efficient and higher quality,” Ash said in a statement.

Portland hopes the pilot project will encourage companies testing self-driving vehicles to make the city a base for their operations.

“We invite companies to locate here and pilot new projects knowing that we stand ready to work with them,” Jennings said in a statement.

The other pilot locations for INRIX’s platform include Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts; Austin, Texas; the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, which includes Las Vegas; and Transport for West Midlands and Transport Scotland in the United Kingdom.

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