The state of Ohio and Ohio State University are joining forces to fund the first phase of a $45 million autonomous vehicle research and testing center, Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich announced on Thursday.
The 540-acre SMART (Smart Mobility Advanced Research and Test) Center will be built on 4,500 acres of the Transportation Research Center (TRC), an area billed as the “nation's largest independent automotive proving grounds.”
The center will test new technologies and highly automated vehicles in a closed real world environment, before the vehicles are deployed on public roads and highways.
Phase 1 will include a flexible platform and infrastructure; the industry's largest high-speed intersection; a flexible test platform the width of more than 50 highway lanes and the length of 10 football fields end-to-end; an urban network of intersections, roundabouts, and traffic signals; and a rural network including wooded roads and neighborhoods.
TRC has been testing different types of vehicles—cars, trucks, buses, ATVs, military vehicles and other specialty vehicles—and components on its 4,500-acre facility in East Liberty, Ohio for more than 40 years, including testing automated and autonomous vehicles over the last two decades.
According to Mark-Tami Hotta, CEO of TRC Inc., there are three main reasons to expand on TRC's proving grounds and the establishment of the SMART Center:
First, to support Columbus's $140 million U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Smart City project. TRC provides a convenient location to safely test new technologies before their use on city streets and highways.
Second, TRC is the home of the only federal vehicle research and test laboratory for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA issued its first directives on autonomous vehicle operation last September, and will need more track time to develop further guidelines for the industry.
Third, 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.
Funding efforts are underway for Phases 2 and 3 of the SMART Center expansion. Phase 2 is expected to focus on what would be a first: An indoor test facility. It would allow for severe weather conditions, such as snow, ice, fog and freezing rain, to be available on-demand for autonomous vehicle testing. Plans for Phase 3 call for a six-lane high-speed highway, with on and off ramps and underpasses, to support the testing of vehicle swarming and truck platooning.