Virginia earmarks highways for automated testing

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While getting your hands on a car that drives itself is still very expensive and rare, residents of Virginia in the United States will soon have the opportunity to drive along side them and help test the technology out. Thanks to a move by local politicians, as much as 70 miles of motorway has been earmarked for testing driverless cars.

Dubbed the Virginia Automated Corridor, it will be overseen by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). The organisation will be the one which decides if a vehicle is allowed for testing on the road, so it won’t be a case of every bedroom developer taking out their semi-automated vehicle. Instead, a car will have to qualify for a license, proving that is unlikely to injure any other road users and has enough smarts to keep itself and its potential occupants safe at all times.

Those driving on the Virginia highways may still feel a little nervous though, even with the stringent tests in place. There is’t reason to fear however, as even those cars which have proved themselves capable of driving around without human intervention, will be required to have a human ‘driver’ in the vehicle at all times during testing. That way, should a situation arise that causes problems for the on board AI, or it attempts to perform a manoeuvre that isn’t safe, they can step in and correct it.

Although it's been all over the country, Delphi's automated vehicle could be tested on Virginia's highways.

Although it’s been all over the country, Delphi’s automated vehicle could be tested on Virginia’s highways.

VTTI director Myra Blanco has also said that there will be no automated vehicles approved for a few months yet, as early applicants are now set to go through the testing phase off road first. However she wouldn’t be drawn on which companies had so far submitted their vehicles for approval.

She also went on to say that the VTTI would pioneer new testing techniques and technologies to help other states come on board with the idea of a self-driving future:

“Other states are saying you need to prove that independently you can do all this testing. What we are trying to do is show them how to do the testing and how to facilitate the process as well,” Blanco said.

Why is this big push happening in Virginia though? Because it has some of the most congested roads in America, and because many autonomy developments have been trialled on the West coast, so it’s important that all sorts of US roads and perhaps more importantly, road conditions, are tested in order to make driverless cars perform to at their utmost.

Image source: Google, Delphi

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.