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Politicians, Experts Optimistic About Local Autonomous Vehicles Testing

By Lucy Wang, Contributing Writer

Transportation specialists and Cambridge officials say they are optimistic about the implications of new executive orders the state and Boston city governments released this past Thursday that will allow autonomous vehicles to be tested in the state.

Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79 and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh appointed new groups of officials—at the state and municipal level respectively—who will direct the implementation of regulations for the testing and pilot stages of self-driving vehicles.

Bryan Reimer, an MIT research scientist who is also the associate director of the school’s New England University Transportation Center, said the orders can help encourage scientific innovation in Massachusetts.

“Massachusetts has traditionally had a very rich history in the robotics area,” he said. “If [Massachusetts] wants to be a future leader in both robotics and transportation, then testing here in the Commonwealth is going to be crucial.”

Cambridge officials, meanwhile, said the city has more work to do in light of the initiative.

“We haven’t done a tremendous lot yet in Cambridge with autonomous vehicles. It’s a discussion that we need to have with manufacturers,” said Joseph Barr, Cambridge’s director of traffic, parking, and transportation.

Cambridge City Councillor Nadeem Mazen said he has been working with the Boston city government to promote Cambridge as a testing site for these vehicles.

“We’ve been talking about how we can be part of this pilot, to be on the up-and-coming of it all,” he said.

John Foote, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, said Boston can build upon other city’s experiences for this initiative.

“Most people believe that the first application of autonomous vehicles will be in fleets such as taxi fleets similarly to what’s being tested in Singapore and Pittsburgh,” he said.

In addition to technological opportunities, Reimers said automated vehicles can lead to safer streets in Cambridge. Local politicians have recently prioritized road safety, including passing new resolutions on bike safety in September.

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