Self-driving cars are coming to portions of the Capital Beltway–and they could be driving some of the most congested stretches of highway in America in just a few years. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute made the announcement as part of an ongoing state government-supported project to bring autonomous cars to Virginia.
The project, called the Virginia Automated Corridors, will add pavement marking, communications infrastructure, and a test track to a loop of road that includes the Beltway between Springfield and Dunn Loring, Virginia, along with portions of Interstates 66 and 95, as well as State Routes 29 and 50. This means that self-driving cars will be sharing the road in the coming years with hundreds of thousands of daily Washington-area commuters.
Virginia Tech’s partners in the project include the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, private toll road operator Transurban, and Nokia’s mapping unit, Here. In a statement posted to Here’s blog, Cathy McGhee of the Virginia DOT said, “Most testing of automated vehicles until now has been done under ideal conditions. By opening up our normal roads, car makers can understand how their self-driving vehicles will operate when things aren’t quite so perfect.”
Much of the difficulty researchers face centers around getting autonomous vehicles to navigate complicated curves, communicate with each other, and to maintain hyperaccurate location information. Researchers working on self-driving cars face a bit of an arms race; Carnegie Mellon recently had 40 of its robotics researchers poached by Uber, which is working on its own autonomous vehicle technology.