Washington-to-Washington Cross-Country Trip by Autonomous Self-Driving Car

Around 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 —successfully maneuvering heavy urban traffic, aggressive tailgating, heavy rains, and highway detours.

Torc unveiled its complete self-driving consumer car system last week. For the past decade, the company has been implementing its self-driving technology in safety-critical environments like defense and mining. Torc’s consumer car prototypes have been on public roads since February of this year.  Earlier this year, a Torc vehicle completed a trip from its headquarters in Blacksburg, Virginia, to Detroit, Michigan.

The Washington-Washington test was the first leg of a round-trip, cross-country journey and a testing milestone, according to Michael Fleming, Torc co-founder and CEO. “Cross-country testing and experiencing different driving styles is critical to the success of any self-driving consumer system,” he said. “I’m very happy 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 a variety of 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 the state’s 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.

Charles Knutson, Inslee’s senior policy adviser for transportation and economic development, met with the Torc team after their arrival in Seattle. Knutson said Torc was the first company that 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 afterwards shows how quickly the executive order had an effect.”

Torc plans to complete the round-trip cross-country this week.