AUTOMATED VEHICLES: Atlanta planning to offer autonomous-vehicle trials this year

Feb. 21, 2017

The city is hoping to test self-driving vehicles as early as September

Self-driving vehicles could begin tooling down a bustling Atlanta street full of cars, buses, bicyclists and college students, as the city vies with other communities nationwide to test the emerging technology.

Atlanta would become one of the largest urban areas for testing self-driving vehicles if plans come together for a demonstration as early as September.

Nationwide, 10 sites were designated last month as "proving grounds" for automated vehicles by the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT). They include North Carolina turnpikes, the eastern Iowa prairie and a Michigan site. Atlanta is not on the list, but city officials nevertheless hope to make an impact.

Atlanta has sought proposals from companies for a demonstration of an autonomous vehicle on North Avenue later this year, city documents show. The street, which connects the Georgia Institute of Technology campus to some of the South's tallest skyscrapers, would be among the busiest urban environments yet for such testing. In Atlanta, city officials say a key goal is to create optimal conditions on North Avenue for such vehicles to operate.

The goal of September's demonstration is to show how such a vehicle would navigate in real-world traffic, though a driver will be inside and can take the controls if needed.

North Avenue would first be equipped with devices and sensors, enabling vehicles to communicate with traffic signals and warning self-driving cars of red lights or treacherous conditions such as snow or ice, the city documents show. Cameras would provide live video of traffic, and computers would analyze data on road conditions, concerts or other events likely to clog streets.

Public acceptance of the vehicles is among the main challenges to their widespread use on city streets and highways, but Atlanta's notorious traffic congestion could lead residents to welcome such vehicles.