Wonder when driverless cars could deliver your groceries? City of Austin works to pave the way


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin’s transportation department is helping pave the way for when autonomous cars hit the roads in Central Texas.

Transportation leaders are working on several initiatives to improve local infrastructure, which would better accommodate autonomous vehicle traffic.

In 2019, Ford began testing out its autonomous vehicle services in Austin, with the city being one of three where the company tests its technology.

The Ford Autonomous Vehicles began appearing in downtown and east Austin. Ford is working closely with Argo AI’s and using the company’s technology.

At first, the autonomous cars were driven by people as they used Argo AI’s technology to map out Austin’s streets. Currently, a safety driver and an engineer sits in each car and monitors it while it drives the streets.

“Right now we are working on level four autonomy,” said Kathleen Baireuther, Austin market manager for Ford.

There are five autonomy levels. Level four means a driver is not required to drive a car inside a specific geofenced area. Ford said it will continue keeping drivers inside the car for now.

In the meantime, the City of Austin is working to add technology the cars would use to operate without drivers. One idea is piloting PINN networks, Public Infrastructure Network Nodes.

A PINN network could be built into already existing traffic poles. It would combine technology like putting a CD player, a camera and an iPod into an iPhone.

“It’s like putting these technologies into a single point to collect everything from atmospheric data to providing access to the internet,” said Robert Spillar, City of Austin Transportation director.

Ford has organically anticipated on launching the autonomous vehicles this year to provide services like grocery drop-offs or rideshares, but COVID-19 has put a damper on those plans. The plan is to launch in 2022 now.

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