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As it Works Toward Smart City Projects, Columbus, Ohio, Opens 'Experience Center' Downtown for the Work

The new center will feature interactive and educational exhibits that give citizens an inside look into the tech helping Columbus' transformation to a smart city.

(TNS) — There are no traditional combustion-engine vehicles in this showroom.

Instead, the Smart Columbus Experience Center, which officially opens in downtown Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday, is all about getting visitors to think about the future of transportation.

Perhaps an electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid should be their next car. They'll be able to get a close look at some. Visitors also will get a chance to examine how transportation systems will change when self-driving cars become popular.

The center, at 170 S. Civic Center Dr., is one of the more obvious signs that Columbus won the Smart City Challenge two years ago, beating out 77 other cities that also applied.

The victory comes with a $40 million Department of Transportation grant and a $10 million grant from Paul G. Allen Philanthropies.

The federal grant is meant to incorporate innovative technology such as self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors into the region's transportation network. The Allen grant is to accelerate the transition to an electrified, low-emissions transportation system — and that includes electric cars.

"The overall goal (of the Allen grant) is greenhouse-gas-emissions reductions and adoption of electric vehicles," said Mark Patton, vice president of Smart Cities, a collaboration of the city and the Columbus Partnership — an organization made up of civic and business leaders — that is in charge of putting the grant money to work.

The Smart Columbus Experience Center will have two electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids on display at a time. For now, they're a Honda Clarity and a Nissan Leaf. Smart Cities has access to six such vehicles and will rotate them through the 3,000-square-foot showroom.

The other 5,000 square feet in the center is mostly office space for what eventually will be a staff of 40 people.

Visitors can arrange a test drive of one of the vehicles beginning July 9. Consumers who want more information will be referred to an auto dealership.

But the center, under construction since March, is about more than vehicles. It is meant to serve as a place where residents can see what the city's transportation future will look like.

There are interactive educational exhibits that, for example, show the locations of charging stations for electric vehicles and provide more information about Smart Cities.

Another display, called a story tower, tells short stories of how a dozen people's lives could be changed by the use of technology to solve problems, such as the value of a self-driving car for someone who has trouble getting around and can no longer drive.

A camera-equipped drone hanging from the ceiling is meant to show how technology can make driving safer. The camera is connected to a display on an electric motorcycle — the motorcycle is not available for test drives — that is in the showroom. The drone could be used, for example, to fly ahead of the motorcyclist to show what lies ahead on the road.

Smart Cities says more than 1,000 people have indicated interest in attending Saturday's kickoff event, which includes the "Smart Cities Block Party" that starts at 9 a.m.

At the kickoff, Smart Cities will have 10 vehicles on hand that can be taken for test drives; visitors also will be able to learn about shared-ride options in Columbus and take a class in bicycle safety. The official ribbon-cutting ceremony will be at 11 a.m.

Initially, the center will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends, excluding holidays. There is no admission charge.

For more information, visit the Smart Columbus website.

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

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