Cruise Automation, the self-driving unit of General Motors, announced today that it will test its autonomous Chevy Bolts in one of the most torturously congested cities in the world: New York City. According to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the company will be the first to test Level 4 autonomous vehicles in the state.
The testing will be in Manhattan, where Cruise has begun mapping a geofenced area, Cuomo’s office said. All testing will include an engineer in the driver's seat to monitor and evaluate performance, and a second person in the passenger seat. As part of the agreement with the state, Cruise will also set up an office in New York City and begin building a team of employees.
“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to save time and save lives, and we are proud to be working with GM and Cruise on the future of this exciting new technology," Cuomo said in a statement.
GM is one of the first companies to agree to New York’s unique rules for self-driving cars, and the first company to plan for sustained testing of its vehicles in the state. (Audi conducted a day-long demonstration of its self-driving test vehicle in Albany earlier this year to celebrate the new rules. Cadillac has also conducted several one-off tests.)
The law, which passed early this year, only allows a brief window for autonomous vehicle testing before expiring on April 1st, 2018. It also requires a police escort for each self-driving car, the expense of which is paid for by the company. Automakers need to list specific vehicles being used for the tests in their application, and each must be covered by a $5 million insurance policy.
Among the 14 states that have laws regulating the testing of self-driving cars, New York is an outlier. Most states have sought to attract autonomous vehicle operators by relaxing regulations and rolling out the red carpet (see: Arizona). Only the Empire State requires so much oversight.
But New York — and in particular, the narrow, twisting, pockmarked streets of Manhattan — is too tempting a challenge for most autonomous vehicle companies to avoid completely. “New York City is one of the most densely populated places in the world and provides new opportunities to expose our software to unusual situations, which means we can improve our software at a much faster rate,” said Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise, in a statement provided by Cuomo’s office.
To date, San Francisco has been the most populous city in the US to host autonomous vehicle testing. Starting next year, though, New York City — recently named one of the most congested cities in the world — will take its place.
Updated October 17th, 11:44PM ET: Clarified that GM is the first company to plan for sustained testing in New York State.