City, UF plan for driverless cars on city streets

Andrew Caplan @AACaplan Self-driving cars — albeit with human engineers at the ready to take the wheel, just in case — may be cruising the streets of Gainesville sooner than expected. The University of Florida, city of Gainesville and Florida Department of Transportation announced a partnership to develop a test for autonomous vehicles throughout the streets of Gainesville, coming as early as this fall. City and UF officials say the partnership is the first of its kind in the state. The tests will consist of driverless cars and smart devices being synced to traffic lights and sensors around Northwest 13th Street and West University Avenue through use of Traffic Technology Services, a data partner of Audi, and Connected Signals, a partner of BMW. UF’s Director of Communications Margot Winick said no specific test dates have been set yet, “but things are coming together rapidly on this project.” “By July, we will have a plan for the different tests that will take place,” she said. The project’s goals include improving safety on and around campus, to facilitate the development of advanced technologies invented at UF and to learn how driverless cars react to pedestrians, bicyclists and traffic. Lily Elefteriadou, the lead researcher and director at UF’s Transportation Institute, said those very scenarios make Gainesville an ideal location for testing. “We’re not there yet, but it allows us to make advances,” she said. The state’s transportation department is funding the experiment for roughly $1.5 million a year for the next five years. Further funding will come from other sources, Elefteriadou said. The initiative comes on the heels of UF officials also announcing awards of more than $300,000 in research funds to seven UF and city of Gainesville projects, which include the self-driving vehicle study. In February, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe and UF President Kent Fuchs signed a pact to address issues identified in each party’s strategic plans. The partnership aligns with goals of implementing alternative transportation throughout Gainesville and showcasing UF as a pre-eminent university. UF already has an autonomous hybrid Toyota Highlander, nicknamed the NaviGator, with sensors that researchers test on closed courses. Still, UF engineers ride along during tests with the ability to take control at any time. The forthcoming tests will be done in actual traffic, but engineers will sit behind the wheel, just in case. As far as autonomous vehicles being safer than real drivers, Elefteriadou said, that has yet to be proven. “We’re taking it slowly,” she said of the test plan. “It’ll be a process.” Contact reporter Andrew Caplan at or on Twitter @AACaplan.

About John Fagan

John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981. John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder. In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home. John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation. Professional Activities John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates. Service to the Community John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
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