Boston is becoming a national and global leader for self-driving car tests as Toyota becomes the latest — and biggest — company to signal interest in putting its autonomous vehicles on Hub streets.
Gill Pratt, chief executive of the Toyota Research Institute, said last week the auto giant has been in talks with both Boston and Cambridge about testing its autonomous vehicles.
The move would make Toyota the first big automaker to put self-driving cars on local streets. TRI, the billion-dollar robotics and artificial intelligence arm of Toyota Motor Corp., has 50 employees in Cambridge, and another 150 in offices in Michigan and California.
While access to the region’s top-notch universities and technical talent is a draw for autonomous companies, Boston’s intrinsic “Bostonness,” with unpredictable weather, unique streets and traffic patterns and Boston drivers, makes it an attractive challenge.
“Boston requires significant skill to drive well,” Pratt said.
Local startups nuTonomy and Optimus Ride and auto parts company Delphi are all testing in Boston’s Seaport and Fort Point neighborhoods.
Last month, nuTonomy and Lyft said they would be partnering to give rides in self-driving cars later this year.
TRI’s cars have been on local streets for months, but with human drivers behind the wheel. Pratt said those cars are collecting the same data autonomous cars do, which is then run through computer simulations to see how the car would have reacted.
“We’re using those cars to record human driving, to record traffic, and build maps, and to record the actions of drivers in our cars,” Pratt said. “It’s impossible to test physical cars with enough miles.”
Toyota still has to reach a testing deal with a city.