Rhode Island wants companies to test self-driving cars on its roads

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Rhode Island wants to be the next proving ground for self-driving cars, joining a growing list of other states that are willing to give pilot programs a green light.

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Michigan, Arizona, California and other state have granted permission to certain companies to test self-driving vehicles on their roads. Rhode Island transportation officials on Monday proposed that automakers and Silicon Valley firms can use highway shoulder lanes, the University of Rhode Island’s campus or Quonset Point, an industrial seaport, to test self-driving vehicles. Other suggestions included areas of Providence and Pawtucket.

Rhode Island also has its sights on futuristic transportation. The state’s memo to companies noted the potential development of a “high-speed intercity and inter-suburb transporter technology,” similar to Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk’s "hyperloop" concept.

The state Department of Transportation has put out a request seeking ideas from developers of autonomous and internet-connected vehicles and other "revolutionary" transportation technology. State officials held an informational meeting Monday.

Transportation officials say they're still in the early stages of scoping out how Rhode Island could adopt cutting-edge transportation systems and prepare its workforce for inevitable changes in how people move around.

"We're thinking about the employment implications," said Shoshana Lew, the transportation agency's chief operating officer. "The transition is going to happen. Technology is changing the way that people get around. We would rather get ahead of it than have it be something that takes people by surprise."

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The state is encouraging companies and academic researchers to start coming up with ideas this summer ahead of a planned exposition in the fall. They're likening Rhode Island to Singapore, which has used its position as a dense city-state to become a real-world testing hub for self-driving cars.

Experimentation is also picking up in neighboring Massachusetts, where three companies now have permission to test self-driving vehicles in Boston's Seaport District.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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