Automation

All Eyes Are on Columbus, Ohio’s Autonomous Shuttle Pilot

The city has taken the lead on testing the technology and other cities are keen to apply what it learns.

by Megan Henry, The Columbus Dispatch / October 4, 2018
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(TNS) — When it comes to self-driving cars in Ohio, all eyes are on Columbus.

Cities across the state, including Athens and Youngstown, are keeping close watch on Columbus' experiment with self-driving shuttles that run along the Scioto Mile Downtown.

May Mobility, a Michigan-based startup, launched the shuttles in September as part of an initiative announced in July by Smart Columbus and DriveOhio.

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"They're going to be the test case to go through the system," said Peter Voderberg, managing director of DriveOhio, the Ohio Department of Transportation agency devoted to autonomous-vehicle research.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order in May designed to attract more autonomous-vehicle testing on Ohio's roads.

A handful of cities across the state are interested in autonomous-vehicle technology, including Athens.

Athens Public Works Director Andy Stone said he signed an agreement in early September between DriveOhio and the City of Athens, allowing the agency and the city to work to bring autonomous vehicles to the southeast Ohio town.

While there is nothing concrete yet, the agreement could lead to an autonomous shuttle — like the one in Columbus — or information sharing between vehicles and infrastructure or collision avoidance technology. Athens is working with Ohio University on the initiative.

"A need we have, with OU in particular, is parking," Stone said.

He said it would be helpful to have a vehicle to transport drivers, such as OU faculty, from their cars to their offices.

Youngstown has also expressed interest in autonomous-vehicle technology, Voderberg said.

Youngstown City Council President DeMaine Kitchen, who was unaware of any concrete self-driving plans in that city, said self-driving vehicles could benefit Youngstown by transporting the elderly to grocery stores and doctor appointments, for example.

Kitchen, however, also expressed concern for what he called the "X-factor," such as a ball rolling in the street or a child running in front of a car.

"Computers don't have a human element," Kitchen said.

Prixarc, a company based out of the Dayton suburb of Beavercreek, has also contacted DriveOhio about autonomous-vehicle technology. The company sells products used in autonomous vehicles and the aerospace, biomedical and smart infrastructure industries.

Prixarc Vice President Vamsy Chodavarapu said states such as California and Arizona have taken aggressive steps to promote autonomous-vehicle technology.

"Ohio offers something that none of these states offer" — four seasons of driving conditions, Chodavarapu said.

In the next couple of months, Voderberg said the registration process for companies interested in testing autonomous vehicles in Ohio will be finalized.

"We don't want to be a state-led initiative," Voderberg said. "We want it to be a collaborative effort between the state of Ohio and all these municipalities so that we have a system that works."

©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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