Washington welcomes its first certified autonomous vehicle pilot test

Torc Robotics ends successful cross-country trip in Washington

Members of the Torc Robotics team from Virginia hold the Washington state flag Wednesday afternoon in Seattle alongside Charles Knutson, right, a policy adviser for Gov. Jay Inslee. Torc Robotics had just completed a successful test drive of its semi-autonomous vehicle in Washington state. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office on Wednesday welcomed a Torc Robotics vehicle to Seattle, marking the first certified autonomous vehicle pilot test in Washington since the governor issued an executive order last month to support AV technology.

Torc Robotics, a spin-off company from Virginia Tech, safely drove its semi-autonomous vehicle across the country and through Washington state without incident. Charles Knutson, Inslee’s executive policy adviser, was there to welcome the vehicle, buy the support crew a cup of coffee and present them with a Washington state flag to recognize their significant achievement.

Torc Robotics specifically chose to conduct its test in Washington because of the governor’s support of self-driving cars and his recent executive order.

“I want to congratulate Torc Robotics on their cross-country autonomous vehicle trip and welcome them to our state,” Inslee said. “Washington is already a leader in autonomous vehicle technology, and these early tests demonstrate how AVs could help save lives, improve mobility and be an important tool in our efforts to combat climate change.”

Inslee’s executive order seeks to maintain the state’s leadership role in the safe testing and operation of AVs. It establishes an interagency workgroup to work with local, regional and federal officials, stakeholders and industry groups, recommend changes or clarifications to state polices and rules about AVs, and examine other emerging automated transportation technology. The order also enables pilot programs for organizations developing AV equipment and technology, such as Torc Robotics.

Inslee worked with Google executives to recruit their self-driving car program to Washington in 2016. Over the past year, the program, now known as Waymo, has successfully tested AVs throughout the city of Kirkland without incident. More than 20 AV technology companies — both established companies and start-ups — have a presence in Washington.

“Torc Robotics chose Washington as their preferred destination because of our efforts to cultivate and nurture autonomous vehicle technology,” Knutson said. “This early pilot test shows how the governor’s AV executive order, signed just a few weeks ago, is already having an immediate positive impact in our state.”