Ohio Turnpike to Serve as Driverless Vehicle Testing Ground

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission officials plan to begin testing driverless cars on the toll road across northern Ohio within the next 12 months.

(TNS) — Head east from Toledo on the Ohio Turnpike a year from now, and you may be sharing the road with automated cars and trucks.

Not necessarily driverless, the Ohio Turnpike’s executive director explained Friday, Aug. 19, but with someone in the driver’s seat whose role is primarily to make sure the vehicle’s guidance system is working properly.

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission officials — in conjunction with several other state agencies — plan to begin testing of such vehicles on the toll road across northern Ohio within the next 12 months.

Turnpike Executive Director Randy Cole declined to discuss who in the automotive industry or elsewhere in the private sector will participate, saying that element is still being worked out.

“That’s at the request of those involved, for competitive reasons,” he said.

Mr. Cole said vehicle automation is likely to be an important technology in the future, and thus it’s important for Ohio and the Midwest to be leaders in its development.

“We think the turnpike is the right opportunity for both passenger [vehicle] testing and some of the latest freight technologies as well,” he said.

Such testing “can be safely done with normal traffic” on the turnpike, Mr. Cole said, and the toll road has several distinctive features lacking on other Ohio highways that will support it.

Among them is the turnpike’s practice of painting its lane stripes six inches wide, instead of the standard four, and repainting them annually, which makes it easier for the vehicles’ sensors to keep them in the proper lane.

The turnpike’s pavement maintenance and aggressive debris removal also will be beneficial, Mr. Cole added.

“They [researchers] don’t want potholes or changes in the road condition,” he said.

Parking lots built at major interchanges for coupling and uncoupling tandem-trailer trucks can be used for staging test vehicles and equipment, and the turnpike’s service plazas will enable refueling without using other roads.

Turnpike officials are also working on the means to provide live traffic and work-zone information to ODOT’s OHGO traffic-monitoring system — data to which vehicular guidance systems also would have direct access.

While all of the turnpike’s 241 miles between the Indiana and Pennsylvania borders are considered suitable for automated-vehicle testing, Mr. Cole said, testing is likely to be concentrated on the 160 miles between Toledo and Youngstown that have three lanes each way instead of two.

Human drivers may be apprehensive about sharing the road with cars and trucks guided by computers, the turnpike director said, but people developing the technology believe automated vehicles can be safer than humans because their “eyes” are always on the road.

“A set of sensors is never going to try to shave, put on lipstick, or drink a cup of coffee behind the wheel,” he said.

Testing on the Ohio Turnpike also will provide opportunities for winter-weather experience that hasn’t been available in the areas where similar tests already have been conducted — principally in the southern and southwestern United States, Mr. Cole said.

Along with the turnpike commission, the Ohio Department of Transportation, Ohio Department of Public Safety, and Ohio State University are leading the local research effort, Mr. Cole said. The research, in turn, is being coordinated with parallel efforts in Pennsylvania and Michigan, he said, “and we need to get Indiana on board too.”

That way, Mr. Cole said, technological developments will be complementary rather than contradictory, and avoid redundancy.

©2016 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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