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An I-5 entrance in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo)

When we envision our self-driving future, cars with built-in entertainment systems buzz us to and from work, while flying Ubers drop off passengers nearby. But the reality of the first commercial autonomous vehicles to arrive on our streets will probably be less sci-fi, more practical.

Researchers at INRIX set out to discover which routes are most practical for commercial AVs — specifically freight trucks — in a new study released Monday. They analyzed trip data from the Kirkland, Wash. company’s traffic database between June to August of 2018. They wanted to find out which freight routes in the U.S. could see the biggest safety improvements from AVs and which would be the most commercially viable to the companies operating them.

(INRIX Image)

INRIX determined that the swath of Interstate 5 stretching from the Canadian to Californian borders is the best route for initial adoption of autonomous trucks in the U.S. Researchers compared 100-mile or longer freight routes, looking for roads with low congestion, high potential to reduce labor costs by eliminating drivers, and high numbers of accidents and incidents that could be reduced by self-driving trucks. The I-5 stretch running through Washington and Oregon scored the highest.

“Mobility data and analytics are more powerful when multiple layers – such as congestion, volume and incidents – are added into the equation,” said Avery Ash, INRIX’s head of autonomous mobility, in a statement. “Using data-driven insights will allow commercial truck operators and road authorities to proactively leverage [autonomous vehicles] to solve key mobility and business challenges.”

The findings lend credibility to an idea floated by Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group. For the past two years, the investment firm has published a report predicting that I-5, between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., will be used exclusively by autonomous vehicles by 2040.

Earlier this year, Seattle-area tech, transportation, and development companies created the ACES Northwest Network to ensure cars that are “automated, connected, electric and shared” are introduced into the region’s transportation system. Members include INRIX, Nvidia, Uber, Lyft, Amazon, Puget Sound Energy, and others.

Meanwhile, government officials and tech companies in the Pacific Northwest are studying the possibility of building a high-speed rail connecting Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C.

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