Ohio Governor John Kasich announced that the State of Ohio and the Ohio State University are funding the $45 million Phase 1 expansion of the Transportation Research Center’s (TRC) all-new 540-acre SMART (Smart Mobility Advanced Research and Test) Center – a state-of-the-art hub for automated and autonomous testing, to be built within the 4,500 acres of the nation’s largest independent automotive proving grounds.
Phase 1 of the expansion will include a flexible platform and infrastructure; the industry’s largest high-speed intersection; the industry’s longest and most flexible test platform (a space the width of more than 50 highway lanes and the length of 10 football fields end-to-end); an urban network of intersections, roundabouts, traffic signals; a rural network including wooded roads, neighborhood network and a SMART Center support building.
TRC has been testing different types of vehicles – cars, trucks, buses, ATVs, military vehicles and virtually every kind of specialty vehicle – 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 Hotta, 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 US 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.
TRC’s SMART Center will be the only independent facility of its kind that is a part of a comprehensive one-stop test facility all vehicle test and development can be efficiently performed at one location.
Funding efforts are underway for Phases 2 and 3 of the SMART Center expansion. Phase 2 will focus on the world’s first indoor test facility, which will allow for severe weather conditions, such as snow, ice, fog and freezing rain, to be available on-demand, year-round, to enable rigorous testing of highly automated vehicles in severe operating conditions. Phase 3 will include a six-lane high-speed highway, with on and off ramps and underpasses, to support the testing of vehicle swarming and truck platooning.
“Thanks to the support of the state of Ohio, Ohio Department of Transportation, JobsOhio and The Ohio State University, the SMART Center expansion provides the capabilities, facilities and support to enable the development of future automated vehicles,” said Mark-Tami Hotta, CEO, TRC Inc. “TRC’s SMART Center is designed to test new technologies and highly automated vehicles in a closed, safe, secure and repeatable real world environment, before the vehicles are deployed on public roads and highways.
“Smart mobility, with connected vehicles and enhanced infrastructures, offers greater accessibility and mobility options, reduced road congestion and more efficient use of natural resources,” said Hotta.
“There’s been an explosion of demand for active safety and autonomous testing around the world, and TRC’s SMART Center is committed to providing a comprehensive solution to that demand,” said Hotta. “As the largest independent vehicle test facility and proving grounds in North America, with more than 1,000 customers worldwide, we’re experts in testing and validating vehicles. We want to provide the industry and government regulatory agencies every test and infrastructure needed to make automated and autonomous vehicles safe for public roads, as we have been doing for the last 40 years.”
“We have visited virtually every other active safety and autonomous vehicle test facility around the world, talked with dozens of customers, and are partnering with many others in this space so that we can best serve the needs of everyone regarding creating safer vehicles, safer drivers, and safer roads,” Hotta added.