Self-driving cars are making their way to Florida. Well, to “connected car” testbeds in Florida, that is.
Automaker Audi was recently the first to try out a section of highway in Tampa, which has been designated by the state as a testbed for automated driving. Here, Audi tested an initial version of “Piloted Driving” – something it calls “Traffic Jam Pilot” – which allows the vehicle to take over on behalf of the driver, controlling steering, braking and speed control at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
The feature was one of many new technology developments Audi showed off at this year’s CES conference.
Automated vehicles are more common in Silicon Valley where companies like Google have been testing out their self-driving cars for several years. But in a place like Tampa, whose local tech community is still trying to find its footing, automated vehicle testing is the talk of the town.
The move to make a portion of Tampa’s Lee Roy Selmon Expressway available to automakers as a car test bed was made possible by HB 1207, which Governor Rick Scott signed into law in 2012. The governor, who is running for re-election, is hopeful about bringing more technology jobs to the state allowing it to expand beyond its tourism and seaport-based industries.
The highway in Tampa is ideal for testing, because it’s a real freeway with reversible lanes that can be opened during rush hour then closed down if need be while automakers run their tests.
On Monday, Audi tested before and after rush hour traffic, from 10 AM to around 3:30 PM.
The law that Scott signed to make this possible legalized autonomous testing in the state, and it also makes Florida one of only four states that have passed laws around autonomous vehicles. The others are California, Nevada, and Michigan. It’s also only one of three with a testbed available to automakers like Audi which claims the technology they’ve built will be market-ready within just five years.
For these automakers, however, the bigger concern is not the tech, but the surrounding regulations.
“Florida actually has some of the more favorable laws that allow us to test fully among all the states – it’s among the top two states for that,” an Audi spokesperson explained. The hope is that, in the future, Florida could be a leader in setting favorable laws for this sort of technology – technology that could eventually save lives, because of problems with distracted driving, and especially texting while driving.
Gov. Scott showed up at the test site to try out the new features of the Audi A7 first-hand, which also included sensors that keep it from rear-ending cars in front of it, and from hitting other cars on the side.
The tests reportedly had a few glitches at first. But Audi says those were not with the car or the technology itself, but with the monitoring equipment handled by the engineer who sits in the backseat with a system that records the data generated by the test runs. The monitoring system was rebooted when it appeared to not be collecting data from a sensor – something which Audi said could have been related to the “heat and humidity” in Tampa.
Yes, the Florida city has that to offer, too: real-world conditions with which to test in.