SMART MOBILITY A test bed for smart connected vehicles emerges in Ohio
While different countries and communities around the world have either embraced or shrugged their shoulders at new mobility technologies, a small section of the Midwestern U.S. state of Ohio has become a regional ground zero for connected and autonomous vehicles.
When most people think of hubs for high-tech automotive innovation, they think of Silicon Valley in the United States, or perhaps proving grounds like the M-City car testing complex at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. But when it comes to clusters of research, development, and testing for connected and autonomous vehicles (AVs), Ohio’s 33 Smart Mobility Corridor may soon give these other areas a run for their money.
A U.S. leader in AV acceptance
As far as U.S. states go that are interested and proactive in AV R&D, use, and acceptance, Ohio ranks very highly in the U.S., along with California, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, and Michigan. Ohio’s state government has recognized that future mobility technology will not just affect driving patterns, traffic, and road usage in the Buckeye State; it can also be a significant generator of investment and business. “Ohio is making the tech infrastructure investments that are putting us in a position to be a leader in automated driving technologies,” declared Ohio Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted, who serves as the director of data management project InnovateOhio.
Established in 2017, the 33 Smart Mobility Corridor is a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Interstate 33 running roughly from Bellafontaine to Dublin, Ohio. The corridor is an outgrowth of Ohio’s Smart Mobility Initiative, which was begun by Ohio State University (OSU) and was expanded to include collaborative partners DriveOhio, a statewide smart mobility project; the Ohio Department of Transportation; the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission; the Ohio Department of Public Safety; the University of Dayton; Wright State University; Case Western Reserve University; Wright Patterson Air Force Base; and the Transportation Research Center. The Corridor is home to more than 70 automotive-related industry companies and organizations, including locations of Honda, Sumitomo, Nissin, Yaskawa, Transtron, Wind River, Alpine Electronics, Panasonic, Hitachi, Clarion, Denso, Valeo, Neaton, Penske, KNB Tools, Denyo, AutoTool, Velocyc, Hidaka, Keihin, Goken, Cresttek, and M-Tek.
The state of Ohio has contributed USD15 million to the 33 Corridor project, while the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a grant of USD6 million to the associated Dublin, Marysville, and Union Counties for expanding fiber-optic networks linking Interstate 33 with intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) communications devices. In total, more than USD100 million has been pledged by public and private partners for investment in the Corridor. DriveOhio serves as a central point of contact for automotive companies and researchers to coordinate Ohio state agency assistance for the development of AVs, smart roads, and related technology.
The Smart Belt Coalition
In 2017, OSU began partnering with transportation agencies and academic institutions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan on connected and automated vehicle projects, forming the Smart Belt Coalition (SBC). The SBC brings organizations together to support vehicle technology research, policy, testing, funding, and deployment, as well as share data and provide opportunities for private-sector testers of AVs. This multi-state initiative also provides leverage in terms of research funding toward making roads safe and secure for all modes of transportation. The SBC is focused on connected and AV applications in work zones, including uniform work-zone scenarios that offer consistency for testers as well as technologies that provide better information to drivers. It also is concentrated on commercial freight opportunities in testing that can be coordinated on Interstate highways such as U.S. 33. In addition, the SBC is interested in incident management applications that can provide better information to and infrastructure for emergency responders and other agencies.
Along the 33 Corridor in the municipality of Marysville, all 27 traffic signals in the city have been upgraded to include dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) transmitters so they can be used as roadside units (RSUs) that can deliver signal phase and timing data and other safety messages to between 800 and 1,000 vehicles (more than 10 % of local traffic) that have been equipped with onboard units (OBUs). The goal was to create a test environment for vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology in a small city environment, effectively establishing the world’s first community where vehicles are connected to infrastructure. In the near future, traffic signals will record individual vehicle speeds, positions, classifications, queue lengths, and acceleration/deceleration rates. This data will then be sent to a central server via a 4G LTE cellular network. The data then can be made available to smartphones and in-car displays so that drivers can be assisted in making navigation decisions. Various carmaker OEMs will be able to incorporate this data in their navigation systems. The V2V technology will allow for vehicle platooning, whereby multiple vehicles can travel together safely in convoys, with a lead vehicle controlling the speed and direction of all following vehicles. Platooning will be able to ease traffic congestion, advance road safety, and reduce fuel/energy consumption, particularly on highways.
The SMART Center
Just off the 33 Corridor in East Liberty, Ohio, the nation’s largest automotive proving grounds—the 4,500-acre Transportation Research Center (TRC)—has built a 540-acre Smart Mobility Advanced Research and Test (SMART) Center for AV testing. The Smart Center includes the automotive industry’s largest high-speed test intersection, the industry’s most flexible and longest test area (the length of 10 American football fields and the width of more than 50 highway lanes), an urban network of roundabouts, intersections, and traffic signals, a rural network (including wooded roads), a neighborhood network for testing at slower speeds, and a central, 10,000-square-foot control building with a garage and office space. There’s also a 7.5-mile high-speed oval test track, a 50-acre vehicle dynamics area (known as the “black lake”), and other road courses. The Center cost at least USD45 million, which has been contributed to by OSU, JobsOhio and the State of Ohio.
Besides the SMART Center, the TRC performs emissions testing, crash testing, durability and dynamics testing, and validation of vehicles. TRC facilities offer crash dummy rentals, specialized test equipment and calibration services, performance and vehicle test driving, special-event hosting, and engineering consulting.
NHTSA’s Vehicle Research and Test Center
The Vehicle Research and Test Center (VRTC) of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in East Liberty serves as the agency’s in-house laboratory for advanced mobility. The VRTC performs studies in crashworthiness, crash avoidance, biomechanics, and defects analysis to prevent injuries, save lives, and reduce traffic-related healthcare and economic costs.
OSU’s Center for Automotive Research
Not far from Interstate 33, at OSU in Columbus, Ohio, the school’s College of Engineering incorporates the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) interdisciplinary research center, which focuses on safety, energy, and the environment, with an emphasis on improving sustainable mobility. The CAR provides state-of-the-art facilities for students, faculty, research scientists, and industry partners. The CAR is recognized for systems engineering, advanced experimental facilities, collaborations with automotive industry development projects, and government and privately sponsored research.
Additional Transportation Modes
Besides automobiles, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) is conducting feasability and environmental impact studies along the 33 Corridor involving Hyperloop and/or other potential high-speed transportation services connecting the cities of Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Chicago. MORPC had already submitted the winning proposal to Virgin Hyperloop One as part of its Global Challenge competition. These studies are the next step for turning the vision of ultra-rapid transport through the American Midwest into reality.