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Economy

Self-Driving Cars Navigate Real World At Ohio's $45 Million Research Center

A styrofoam car used for simulations at the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty.
A styrofoam car used for simulations at the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty.

East Liberty's Transportation Research Center celebrated the opening of a new $45 million SMARTCenter to test automated cars in real-world environments.

The SMARTCenter features roads and structures built to replicate the different environments drivers might encounter around Central Ohio. It's the largest test track of its kind in the world, three times bigger than Disneyland.

As part of a simulation at Wednesday's unveiling, an automated car swerves around a styrofoam vehicle that's run a red light. Transportation Research Center president Brett Roubinek says the exercise, like everything at the comprehensive test facility, aims to improve driver safety.

“We will continue to see automotive manufacturers put forth automated driver assist systems,” Roubinek says. “Some are available in the showroom now, some are kind of right on the cusp of becoming available and becoming required.”

The first phase includes the high-speed intersection and a control center. Later this year, they plan to open an urban roadway network that mimics a cityscape and a large circle of asphalt to test vehicle dynamics.

All those elements should be up and running by the end of 2019. The center is planning more long-term, ambitious projects as well.

“Phase Two is an indoor winter conditions facility,” Roubinek explains. “So about 400,000 square feet under roof where we can create winter conditions any day of the year in Ohio.”

The Transportation Research Center will feature environments meant to mimic both rural and urban driving.
Credit Adora Namigadde / WOSU
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The Transportation Research Center will feature environments meant to mimic both rural and urban driving.

The final phase allows for full roadway testing.

“And that’s a 2.3 mile highway loop with highway standards – on ramps, off ramps, those kinds of things,” Roubinek says.

The funding was provided by the State of Ohio, Ohio State University and JobsOhio.

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