Autonomous vehicles, aka self-driving cars, are one of the most highly anticipated urban technologies that are expected to disrupt and transform urban society in the coming decades, with estimates predicting that by 2035 human driven cars will be a minority behind fully autonomous and partially autonomous vehicles. Numerous tech and automotive companies are investing millions of dollars in research and development to bring self-driving cars to market. Forward-thinking cities are recognizing this coming trend and are working on policy and infrastructure to support this new mobility economy. Among those, Sacramento is positioning itself as center for autonomous vehicle research.

A group Sacramento government officials and business & technologies leaders have formed an initiative with a mission of bringing autonomous vehicle testing to the city. Known as the Autonomous Transportation Open Standards (ATOS) Lab, this initiative is backed by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui and Sacramento Kings’ majority owner Vivek Ranadivé. The goal of ATOS is to develop a reference architecture or framework under which autonomous vehicle testing can be performed.

Some may be excused for a degree of incredulity that any kind of government-backed initiative can escape bureaucratic inertia and position a city at the forefront of an impending technological and societal shift. But in an announcement of the initiative in April, Ranadivé showed just how ambitious and serious this coalition is when he issued what has come to be known as the “Kings’ Challenge.”

Video: What is the Kings’ Challenge?
Click below to play the video for a quick animated video explanation.

The Kings’ Challenge issued by Ranadivé is that by the opening home game of the Sacramento Kings in 2017, that 50 people, including himself, Matsui, and Steinberg,  be driven to the NBA basketball game in autonomous vehicles. Though the NBA has yet to release its schedule for the upcoming season, this first home game is expected to be at the end of October or first week of November.

Make no mistake, there’s a lot of work being done by the City of Sacramento and local business leaders to make this challenge a reality. When it happens, and I’m confident that it will, the sight of 50 people being driven to the Golden 1 Center in autonomous vehicles will definitely garner some media attention, both local and national. I can already see the naysayer’s comments and tweets about this, no doubt proclaiming it to be a publicity stunt. But I think this kind of bold challenge is just what we need to give a turbo charge to Sacramento’s efforts to become a leader in urban technology, mobility, and autonomous vehicles. I’m looking forward to watching this all unfold.

Related Reads:

Sacramento, Calif., Is Creating a Reference Architecture to Scale Up Autonomous Vehicles

Sacramento launches new initiative to position city for autonomous vehicle testing