Today, the state Pennsylvania announced that it will be authorizing its first self-driving cars. Earlier in the week, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) allowed Aurora to be the first company to test their models on state-roads. It is reported that the autonomous vehicle software maker raised over USD$90 million in preparation for this project.
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According to TechCrunch, Aurora has been working on its autonomous vehicle technology, in conjunction with Chinese company Byton vehicles, since early 2017. However, the state only released its self-driving vehicle testing guidelines in July of this year. While they did not have to technically register, Aurora complied with the government’s request to provide them with access to information about its previous test results, their prospective safety measures, the training of its vehicle operators, and specifics on their driverless vehicle functionality. For example, Aurora informed Pennsylvania authorities that they would have a driver and a co-pilot operating the vehicle and would put them through twelve weeks of intense training.
Many were surprised that Aurora was chosen over Uber to be the first driverless car manufacturers to test their models outside Pittsburgh. Uber’s autonomous vehicle program had experienced a major setback in March following a fatal crash in Arizona. While its models are still permitted to function in Pittsburgh, there are subject to heavy restrictions and are unlikely to receive authorization to drive in the rest of the state.
To be clear, Aurora’s test vehicles still have human drivers behind the wheel as a precaution. These drivers are employees, not contractors, who have gone through twelve weeks of training and a proper vetting process. The data provided in these tests will eventually lead to successive tests without human drivers, which is a must if Aurora wishes to truly bring autonomous cars to the market in the near future.
The company announced in an official post:
“We voluntarily complied with PennDot’s request because we believe this will help the communities in and around Pittsburgh to be aware of Aurora, our testing, our commitment to safety, and our vision for a self-driving future. We are committed to continuing our collaboration and strengthening our partnership with PennDot as well as other locals, state, and federal officials. Together with the oversight and care expected from the government and its citizens, we will bring self-driving technology to market safely, quickly and broadly. “