Another Boston company developing driverless car technology has been approved to test-drive vehicles on the streets of South Boston.
Optimus Ride, a startup based on technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has received city and state approval to take to the roads of the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park in the Seaport District, which has about 3 miles of roadway. Optimus Ride is the second company to test vehicles in the area, after nuTonomy Inc. began test-driving there in January. Both companies are spun out of MIT and have offices in the Seaport.
In the first phase of testing, Optimus Ride drivers will manually traverse streets within the marine park to collect data for mapping. After more than 100 miles of data collection, the company will be allowed to begin testing the self-driving functions. A driver will remain behind the wheel during the tests in case of an emergency.
After another 100 miles of self-driving tests, Optimus Ride can then ask to “demo” its technology to passengers on Boston’s roads, according to the application it submitted to state officials.
Several major automotive and technology companies — including Ford, General Motors, Uber, and Google — have been developing and testing self-driving technology across the country.
But only nuTonomy has so far tried the technology on Boston’s infamous roads. It has seen some success, gaining city approval to expand its testing area beyond the marine park to a wider swath of South Boston, while striking a deal with ride-hail company Lyft to operate nuTonomy vehicles on its platform. NuTonomy, which is also testing in Singapore, has said its goal is to ultimately use its technology to operate taxi services in urban areas.
Comparatively little is known about Optimus Ride. The company has been largely secretive since it launched in 2015, though it announced in 2016 that it had raised more than $5 million in funding.
The Boston test is expected to begin soon, but in an interview Monday, chief executive Ryan Chin wouldn’t say what type of vehicles Optimus Ride will use. Yet in its application to officials, the company said it has chosen outdoor sports vehicle company Polaris as a manufacturer, using electric vehicles that look like extended golf carts. Optimus Ride also said it had tested vehicles made by Rhode Island-based industrial conglomerate Textron.
On Monday, Chin said the company is developing both hardware and software for self-driving vehicles.
Optimus Ride, Chin said, is “exploring many different models” for how to deploy self-driving technology, including public transit and taxi uses. He declined to say who the company is targeting as customers.
“You can have an on-demand service like nuTonomy. You can have a shuttle service,” Chin said “We’re not launching any particular model. We are exploring all of them.”
Optimus Ride is not testing its systems in any other state. But it has worked with Boston to test vehicles off public roads in private lots and, according to its application, also ran tests at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown. The school did not return calls seeking comment.
The company has also tested vehicles indoors, at its 20,000-square-foot headquarters in the Seaport. Chin said the office has a substantial amount of space used for vehicle testing, with roadways and street signage that can be adjusted to test different scenarios.Adam Vaccaro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.