BLACKSBURG, VA—Barely a month after Washington State instituted its permit program for self-driving car testing, its first enrollee rolled into Seattle this week. The Torc Robotics’ self-driving car had traveled from Washington, D.C., completing 2,500+ autonomous miles in six days. It successfully maneuvered through heavy urban traffic, aggressive tailgating, heavy rain, and highway detours.
Last week, Torc unveiled its complete self-driving car system. The company has been implementing its self-driving technology in safety-critical environments like defense and mining for the past decade. Since February of this year, Torc’s consumer car prototypes have been on public roads. Earlier this year, a Torc vehicle completed a trip from Blacksburg, Virginia, to Detroit, Michigan.
The Washington-Washington test was the first leg of a round-trip, cross-country journey, and a testing milestone. Torc co-founder and CEO Michael Fleming said, “Self-driving systems require regular cross-country testing to experience different driving styles. I am thrilled with how our system performed,” he said. The trip took six days across 13 states and logged 2551 autonomous miles.
The coast-to-coast trip was highway-focused and presented various challenging scenarios for autonomous driving. The car successfully drove through heavy traffic on the narrow streets of D.C. It navigated a highway detour through heavy rains on the winding roads of West Virginia. In Wyoming, it maneuvered through aggressive traffic and frequent tailgating. It also successfully handled obstacles such as tire pieces and left lane merges.
“In the worst of the West Virginia downpour, the car could see better than we could,” said one of Torc’s safety drivers, who participated in the trip.
Torc chose Seattle, Washington, as its destination because of its recent encouragement of autonomous vehicle testing. On June 7, Governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order allowing driverless cars to test-drive on Washington roads, with or without a human behind the wheel.
After arriving in Seattle, Charles Knutson, Inslee’s senior policy adviser for transportation and economic development, met with the Torc team. Knutson said Torc was the first company registered with the newly created Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Program permit to test their self-driving car in Washington.
“The motivation behind the order was to cultivate and nurture innovation and maintain our state’s leadership role in AV technology,” Knutson said. “The first certified pilot test occurring a month afterward shows how quickly the executive order had an effect.”
Torc plans to complete the round-trip cross-country test next week, one of many demonstrations planned this year.
About Torc Robotics
Torc Robotics, headquartered in Blacksburg, Virginia, provides autonomous vehicle solutions for multiple industries, including defense, agriculture, automotive, and mining. Founded in 2005, Torc has integrated its components and systems on ground vehicles ranging from two-ton SUVs to 300-ton mining trucks—in safety-critical environments. Torc first gained notice when its self-driving car was one of the three winners of the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. In 2011, the company also made history when it co-developed a vehicle with Virginia Tech. This vehicle enabled a blind person to independently drive on the Daytona International Speedway as part of the National Institute of the Blind’s Blind Driver Challenge.