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City And Autonomous Vehicle Companies Agree To Testing Guidelines

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
Uber one of several companies testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh.

An executive order signed by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Monday outlines objectives and expectations for the safe testing of autonomous vehicles in the city. 

Companies Aptiv, Argo AI, Aurora Innovation and Uber were all present for the announcement. Peduto said the document calls for a partnership, "that's built on trust ... a clear understanding of mission and of shared values." 

"We want to test our technology in different environments and different weather conditions ... in different traffic conditions and infrastructure setups," said Junqing Wei, VP of engineering at APTIV, which has offices in O'Hara.

Credit Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA News
Representatives of Pittsburgh-area self-driving vehicle companies clap as Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto signs an executive order that outlines testing guidelines.

City officials said Pittsburgh, an autonomous vehicle research hub, is the first municipality to draw up testing guidelines that are this extensive. 

For example, it directs the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure to create policies that ensure communication, increase "transparency and knowledge of the testing occurring on public streets," enhance "walking, public transit, and travel by bicycle ... in highly urbanized areas," and promote the development of "low or no emissions" vehicles.

Companies will also be required to submit data on public safety and mobility efficiency, which DOMI will present in an annual report.

The order doesn't lay out how compliance will be measured and includes no provisions for enforcement or penalties if companies fail to live up to these principles.

“We want to start with every good faith that the guidelines will be respected and followed," said DOMI director Karina Ricks. “I suppose that at a later date we can evaluate what kinds of enforcement or penalties might be necessary, but that seems like the wrong way to start a relationship.”

Ricks emphasized this order applies only to the testing of autonomous vehicles, and not the commercialization of the technology.

Raj Rajkumar, the co-director of the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Vehicular Information Technology Collaborative Research Lab, said setting up lines of communication between city officials and self-driving car companies will be especially important in case of a crash involving an autonomous vehicle.

“If this were not signed and a public incident happened ... it would make all of us look bad," said Rajhkmar. "And then making sure that we can all agree to a framework ... to keep the public safe."

So far there has been one pedestrian death involving an autonomous driving car. A woman in Tempe, Ariz. was killed in March of last year by an Uber vehicle. As a result, the company temporarily suspended testing in Pittsburgh and other cities.