The city of Boston said Wednesday that it plans to start testing a small fleet of autonomous vehicles within a year in a pilot project that could turn the streets of Beantown into a playground for engineers and policymakers.

Along with the testing of robotic cars, the program will focus on designing policies to support the "transformative" technology, said Mayor Marty Walsh. It's part of a study on the future of transportation backed by the city's transportation department, its Office of New Urban Mechanics and the World Economic Forum.

City officials don't appear to have decided which company's self-driving cars they want to use yet. A statement from the mayor's office said Boston would be working with "mobility industry leaders," and Kris Carter, a co-chair of the New Urban Mechanics office, told the Boston Globe that the project would be open to "talking with anybody."

The announcement came as Uber launched a first-of-its-kind service Wednesday in Pittsburgh that allows select residents to receive a ride in a self-driving car.

Many states lack explicit rules governing the use of driverless vehicles, and the federal government is expected to issue guidelines soon. In the meantime, it has fallen to companies like Uber and cities like Boston to lead the way.

Big questions surround the technology, such as how to ensure it isn't compromised by hackers, or whether to require a human to sit in the driver's seat at all times. This year, regulators in California debated requiring a person to sit behind the wheel, but Google and other designers pushed back strongly against the proposal.

With its harsh winters, old windy streets and ornery drivers who have earned themselves a reputation, Boston may offer a challenging test environment for autonomous cars — which is precisely what the technology requires, analysts say, if it is to gain widespread acceptance.