- The City of Sacramento has signed a partnership with Phantom Auto to allow the company to test autonomous vehicles (AV) on city streets, monitored and telecontrolled by technicians at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, CA, The Sacramento Bee reports.
- The Phantom vehicles will run on a pilot program for six months, gathering data on city streets and wireless networks and testing how the company’s remote driving functions in the real world. The vehicles will initially also have a human backup driver.
- Phantom will develop 15 routes in its six-month pilot, Sacramento Chief Innovation Officer Louis Stewart told the Sacramento Business Journal, after which other AV companies would be encouraged to draw on the data.
The partnership, which Sacramento says is the first of its kind in the nation, marks a significant step forward for the capital city’s bid to become an autonomous vehicle leader. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg told the Bee that it was a "signature moment" and a "clear sign that we are willing to step up and show the state and the country that we want to be on the forefront of new technologies."
Sacramento had previously created the Autonomous Transportation Open Standards Lab, meant to unite policy makers, industry leaders and academics to speed up the deployment of self-driving cars. A key part of that initiative is setting industry standards and offering advice to lawmakers at all levels of government. Being in the capital city of one of the most tech-heavy states means Sacramento offers a potentially influential hub for policy discussions.
The Phantom testing brings a new element to the plans — the company will not just lay out several potential routes for driverless vehicles to take, but will collect and distribute valuable information about how the city’s wireless network works. Phantom relies on remote operators who can take control of the vehicle in an emergency, but eventually all driverless car companies will need a reliable connection (through 5G or other sources) to function. By mapping out the reliability of that network, Phantom could provide valuable information that could attract other companies to Sacramento.