Ford to test self-driving cars in DC, bring jobs

WASHINGTON — Ford is bringing the testing of autonomous vehicles to Washington, D.C. and in an agreement, the automaker plans to educate and employ D.C. residents in the emerging industry.

“This year and into 2019, we will build the backbone of a self-driving business in the city,” said Sherif Marakby, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles division.

Marakby said the company will begin building an autonomous vehicle terminal in Ward 5, which will be used as a base for its operation and house their fleet of test vehicles.

In 2019, the company will begin sending out autonomous vehicles with safety drivers throughout the nation’s capital, which will map out the city and help developers better program the cars for how to react on public streets.

Marakby said the company’s goal is deploy vehicles without safety drivers in the city, which will be used for ride sharing and moving goods.

“A few years ago I was thinking we were getting behind the curve on this autonomous vehicle technology,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Now Bowser hopes the vehicle will help the city improve transportation and grow the autonomous automobile industry, which would bring more jobs to the District.

As part of its partnership with the District, Ford and Argo AI — the artificial intelligence company used by Ford — will train D.C. residents for jobs, which include testing, operating and maintaining autonomous vehicles at the D.C. Infrastructure Academy.

City officials express it is aware that accidents involving driver-less cars have happened around the nation, which is why the city will want to keep a close eye on the testing process. The city and its Interagency AV Working Group, which has been preparing the district for driver-less cars, will have to sign off before truly driver-less cars will be allowed on the roads.

“It is possible that we’ll find that it’s not a fit for our city, and that’s what this test phase is all about,” Bowser said.

Marakby said the company intends to make sure the cars are safe before they go onto the roads, and in turn, once they are deployed, he expects they’ll make the streets safer.

“We definitely see a big safety benefit of this technology,” Marakby said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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