North America’s most advanced testing site for automated and connected vehicles opened Wednesday in East Liberty.
Engineers and politicians participated in a ribbon cutting for the new SMARTCenter at the Transportation Research Center, Inc. and saw a demonstration of its capabilities. In a preview of what may soon become commonplace on local roads, a driver-less car successfully maneuvered among a couple cars and a COTA CMAX (Columbus to Westerville) bus that were being driven by people at a fully-operational four-way intersection.
The autonomous vehicle was covered in white fabric, so as not to reveal any technology secrets. A TRC employee called it a “generic Velcro car,” not identifying the manufacturer. A life-size model of the vehicle was on display in the SMARTCenter building, equally mysterious to prying eyes. And the 1.2-mile-long, six-lane intersection, although near U.S. Route 33, is hidden to traffic on the private 540-acre vehicle testing site. The idea is that original equipment manufacturers are able to test their products safely here at this mobile laboratory before they go on U.S. Route 33 for real.
A plethora of public officials and proving ground principals praised the proving grounds.
“Ohio is making the tech infrastructure investments that are putting us in a position to be a leader in automated driving technologies,” said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who serves as director of InnovateOhio. “This new facility will attract the innovative people and businesses we need to compete for and bring global automated-driving technology investment to Ohio.”
“Opening the SMARTCenter, after more than five years of collaborative planning with our industry partners … reinforces Ohio’s commitment to innovation and highlights our historic leadership in transportation technology,” said Brett Roubinek, president and CEO of TRC.
“Safety is priority one,” said Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks. “This technology makes Ohio’s roadways safer for everyone.”
“This is the hook that brings out-of-state companies here,” said Kristi Tanner, JobsOhio managing director.
“This gem will allow us to explore the frontiers of autonomous vehicles,” said Morley Stone, Vice President of Research at The Ohio State University.
“I believe we (Ohio) will lead the revolution in mobility options,” said Joanna Pinkerton, COTA president and CEO.
State Sen. Stephanie Kunze, whose District 16 includes Dublin, said she has served on the Transportation Committee and has been very supportive of the SMARTCenter, which is “the future of safety and transportation in Ohio.”
Even an official from Union County said that “this is exciting stuff.”
Funding for the $45 million project was provided by the State of Ohio, JobsOhio and Ohio State, said David Williams, Dean of OSU’s College of Engineering.
Former Gov. James Rhodes was cited by several speakers for having the foresight to provide the initial support for TRC more than 40 years ago.
The new SMARTCenter is part of the 4,500-acre TRC Inc., which is 40 miles northwest of Columbus. Billed as the “largest independent automotive proving ground in North America,” TRC’s expanse includes road courses and a 7.5-mile high-speed oval test track. Located near Honda’s Marysville plant, TRC is used by companies worldwide to test for safety, fuel economy, performance, reliability, noise and emissions.