Austin has been the site of autonomous-vehicle experimentation since at least 2015, when Google’s Waymo project deployed self-driving cars in Northeast Austin; there have also been tests of autonomous shuttle buses both in the central city and at the airport.
You’ll soon be able to add Ford Motor Company to the list of companies doing some vehicular experimentation on the city’s public streets. Austin will become the company’s third launch market for self-driving vehicles (Miami-Dade County and Washington, D.C., were the first).
The company will start with mapping East Austin and downtown conducted via conventional vehicles “over the coming months,” according to a blog post/press release on Medium by Sherif Marakby, Ford’s CEO of autonomous vehicles.
Cartographer types will “use sensors on our vehicles to create high-resolution, 3D maps of streets, buildings and all permanent static objects in areas where we plan to operate,” Marakby writes. Ford is partnering with Argo AI on the project.
“With our region’s population on track to double in the next 20 to 25 years, it’s clear we need to re-think how our right-of-way is used if we want people to be able to move around our city,” wrote Austin mayor Steve Adler in a message on the Medium post. “Our 20-year goal is for at least 50 percent of people to take advantage” of transportation options other than personal vehicles, “like buses or bicycles.”
“Self-driving vehicles offer the potential to expand mobility options for all our residents and present opportunities to increase the capacity of our existing transportation system,” Adler writes, adding that they have to potential to increase both transportation accessibility and road safety.
Autonomous technology plays “a key role” in the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan “by improving the safety of our roadways, the accessibility and the equity of our transportation systems,” said city of assistant manager Gina Fiandaca.