Robot Cars to Descend on 10 Sites U.S. Names as Proving Grounds

  • Silicon Valley, Detroit each designated after competition
  • Test areas to help U.S. keep up with Asian, European rivals

Race To Build Self-Driving Cars Accelerates

Robot cars will be put through their paces by researchers and federal regulators at 10 test tracks designated by the U.S. as official sites for validating the technology.

In one of its last acts under the Obama administration, the Transportation Department picked two sites in California and one each in Michigan and seven other states as locations for proving self-driving cars before they hit U.S. roadways. The selections follow a nationwide competition among national testing centers that began in November.

Automakers will share the facilities and data to accelerate the arrival of autonomous cars, the regulator said. The race is on to put robot cars on the road, with Tesla Motors Inc., BMW AG, General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Volvo Cars each pledging production of fully autonomous cars within five years. Alphabet Inc. spun off its Google Self-Driving Car Project, renamed it Waymo, and unveiled a driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivan earlier this month.

“The designated proving grounds will collectively form a community of practice around safe testing and deployment,” outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “This group will openly share best practices for the safe conduct of testing."

Detroit and Silicon Valley, vying for supremacy over autonomous autos, each received official test sites in their backyards. GoMentum Station, a decommissioned Naval base in Concord and the San Diego Association of Governments each got the nod in California. The American Center for Mobility at Willow Run in Michigan, where B-24 bombers were built during World War II, also made the cut.

“Speed is of the essence here,” Senator Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who pushed for the competition to name official test sites, said “We’re in a very important race against Asian and European countries that are moving forward with this technology.”

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