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Columbus, Ohio, region boosts smart mobility research

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 21, 2017
Ohio State University expects to test driverless cars on campus next year

The 11-county region that includes Columbus, Ohio, is pushing ahead with smart city tech research, including funding focused heavily on smart mobility and driverless vehicle testing.

Last month, the State of Ohio and Ohio State University (OSU), based in Columbus, announced $45 million in funds for a new 540-acre Smart Mobility Advanced Research and Test Center, as an expansion of an existing 4,500-acre Transportation Research Center (TRC).

Automated vehicles and related technology will be tested at the center in a closed and secure real-world setting before they get deployed on public roads. Plans call for a 12-lane intersection for testing as well as for wireless networks that operate in different mobile environments, including cities, rural areas and neighborhoods. A later phase calls for building an indoor winter weather testing facility, which would require added funds.

The U.S. Department of Transportation last month also designated 10 other new locations nationwide that will act as proving grounds for self-driving vehicles.

Last June, the city of Columbus won $40 million from the DOT in a Smart City Challenge. The DOT grant was matched by $10 million from Vulcan Inc. and $90 million that the city raised from private partners.

Also in the 11-county region, the cities of Dublin, Marysville and Union County are working to create a Smart Mobility Corridor along a 28-mile section of U.S. Route 33.

The region benefits from proximity to OSU's Center for Automotive Research and its College of Engineering in Columbus as well as Honda's North America operations, OSU officials said. A 30-mile portion of the Ohio Turnpike in the region will also be used to develop smart mobility technology, including smart sensors for tollgates and parking.

One focus of the mobility research will be on developing universal standards for wireless communications between vehicles and sensors on traffic signals, highway lanes and other road infrastructure, said David Williams, dean of the OSU College of Engineering and a board member of the TRC.

"At this moment, policy and standards and regulations are far behind" smart mobility technology, Williams said in an interview. "So far, we're just touching the tip of the iceberg with what needs to be studied...and whether the standards need to be national or global. These issues need to be managed pretty quickly."

In addition to testing terrestrial autonomous vehicles like trucks and cars on highways, testing will include drones and trucks used on construction sites and on farms, he said.

Williams said some driverless experiments are expected to occur on the OSU campus starting in mid-2018. The OSU campus is "a city of 110,000 people" where electric Honda vehicles can provide a testbed on roadways closed to other outside vehicles, he said.


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