Another self-driving car startup has received approval to test the streets of Boston’s Seaport, and it could eventually lead to the company to providing passenger service in the future.
Optimus Ride, a MIT spinoff backed by computer chip giant Nvidia, announced on Tuesday that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has given it the go-ahead to start testing autonomous vehicles in the state. The Boston-based startup has also signed a memorandum of understanding with MassDOT and the city of Boston to test its vehicles on public roads and property, starting with the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park in the Seaport, where the company is headquartered.
It’s also where nuTonomy, a competitor based in Cambridge that recently partnered with Lyft, has been testing its vehicles since January. NuTonomy, which is also testing a fleet of self-driving taxis in Singapore, expanded its testing beyond the boundaries of the publicly-owned Flynn Marine Park and onto more public roads in the Seaport in April.
Ryan Chin, CEO and co-founder of Optimus Ride, told BostInno that the startup is still currently completing 100 miles of testing with a completely manned autonomous vehicle, meaning that an engineer is in full control. After that is done, the startup will begin testing 100 miles of unmanned control, potentially starting this week, though two engineers will always be present in the vehicles.
Once the second phase is complete, Optimus Ride will begin testing rides with passengers on board, Chin said, though it has yet to negotiate an agreement with the city and state. Chin said the startup could potentially provide some kind of autonomous taxi service as part of this test, similar to how Lyft plans to soon test nuTonomy’s autonomous vehicles for passenger service in Boston.
Optimus Ride has already been testing its vehicle inside its 20,000-square-foot facility in the Seaport, as well as in a parking lot outside its building, Chin said. It has also tested a potential use case for its autonomous vehicle technology: providing rides for blind and visually impaired as part of a partnership with Watertown-based Perkins School for the Blind.
“We can apply any model to that technology.”
Despite having tested one use case with the possibility of testing a passenger service, Optimus Ride isn’t saying yet what kind of commercial applications it plans to provide with its technology. Chin said he isn’t ready to disclose any clients.
“We built a full-stack solution,” Chin said, meaning Optimus Ride’s technology covers every aspect of what an autonomous vehicle requires, including sensors and a navigation system. “We can apply any model to that technology.”
Optimus Ride has 28 employees, and it currently has seven positions open. The startup raised a $5.25 million seed round last fall led by NextView Partners and FirstMark Capital, with participation from Nvidia and other investors.