Ohio Announces $45 Million Investment into Autonomous Vehicle Testing Grounds

Ohio Gov. John Kasich wants the state to be on the cutting edge of transportation and is dedicating a sizable portion of the budget to do so.

by / January 27, 2016
Screenshot taken from TRC Introduction Video/Youtube

“People say we’re the Rust Belt, that offensive to me,” said Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “I believe we are the Knowledge Belt.”

In a joint announcement between the state, Ohio State University and JobsOhio, Kasich pledged to invest $45 million to begin implementing a new Smart Mobility Advanced Research and Test (SMART) Center to test automated and autonomous vehicles at the Transportation Research Center (TRC) in East Liberty, Ohio.

The SMART Center will devote 540 acres to the testing of, “highly automated vehicles in a closed, safe, secure and repeatable real-world environment, before the vehicles are deployed on public roads and highways,” said Mark-Tami Hotta, CEO of the TRC in a release.

During the press conference, Hotta explained the three primary driving forces behind the expansion of the TRC.

1. The investment in the SMART Center will support Columbus' $140 million US Department of Transportation (USDOT) Smart City project.

2. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses operates a dedicated research and test laboratory at the TRC.

3. TRC's SMART Center is designed to enable car manufacturers and suppliers to expand their automated and autonomous testing where the guidelines are being developed.

The center is planned to feature urban, rural and residential environments in order to understand how the technology will work in the real world, but in the safety of a controlled environment. “This is going to be like the Truman Show out at the TRC,” said Kasich.

Ohio has been making a lot of headway into next-gen transportation. Aside from Columbus winning the Smart City Challenge, a $15 million Smart Mobility Corridor project was set up that will serve as a testing ground for connected vehicles. Along with Pennsylvania and Michigan, Ohio has formed the Smart Belt Coalition in order to support research, testing, policy, funding pursuits and deployment of autonomous vehicles, as well as share data and provide unique opportunities for private-sector testers.

The funding announced is only for phase 1 of the project. Phase 2 will feature an indoor test facility, which will allow for severe weather conditions, such as snow, ice, fog and freezing rain, to be available on-demand, year-round, to enable testing in severe operating conditions. Phase 3 will include a six-lane high-speed highway, with on and off ramps and underpasses, to support the testing of vehicle swarming and truck platooning.

“Ohio has that [Rust Belt] reputation because it's always about last year's football team,” said Kasich. “Now, we’re talking about the dreams of tomorrow, and not just talking, we’re implementing.”