Ohio wants to be in the thick of the race toward autonomous and connected vehicles, and state officials were in town Thursday to hear from local stakeholders about concerns they have when it comes to these emerging technologies.
Among those concerns: Getting RTA buses and drivers real-time weather updates, making sure driverless cars can sense bicyclists and runners and making sure students in busy school districts get to school safely each morning.
It’s unknown when autonomous vehicles and related technology might come to Ohio’s roads, but the Ohio Department of Transportation’s DriveOhio project is exploring the use of driverless vehicles in Columbus and elsewhere. The idea is to learn how to use and deploy this evolving technology, which enables vehicles — equipped with special sensors and cameras — to operate with a startling degree of independence.
Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order in May designed to attract more autonomous-vehicle testing to the state, and Ohio has a $5 million contract with Los Angeles-based AECOM Technical Services, Inc. to design and develop Ohio’s connected and autonomous vehicle infrastructure.
ODOT and AECOM officials met with officials from Dayton, Springboro, Kettering, Fairborn and beyond Thursday at the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission downtown Dayton offices.
“This is the wave of the future,” John Gray, AECOM associate vice president and technical practice leader, told those at the local meeting. “This is the direction we’re going in.”
The goal is to put technology in place allowing autonomous vehicles communicate with each other and other sources, reducing accidents and traffic mishaps.
An average of about 1,000 Ohio drivers are killed annually. According to DriveOhio, driver error is responsible for about 90 percent of all crashes.
Ground was broken this year for what the state says will be the world’s largest autonomous and connected vehicle testing facility in East Liberty.
Dubbed the “SMARTCenter,” the new site is designed to test advanced automotive and mobility technologies in a “real-world” environment before putting vehicles on public roads.
Google famously has its “Waymo” subsidiary devoted to autonomous vehicle technology, and General Motors is developing its own division, dubbed “GM Cruise,” a unit it bought in 2016 as a start-up. And this summer, Ford created its own self-driving tech division, Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC.
State leaders want to learn “What’s important to us at the state level, what’s important to our local partners, and to see how we can organize that,” said Andrew Bremer, managing director at DriveOhio.
Asked about specific timelines, Bremer said it was too soon to discuss those.
“It’s like looking into a crystal ball and saying who is going to win the World Series,” he said.
“The goal is to gather as much information while at the same time piloting those projects that have an impact on safety. That’s our No. 1 priority in this department, safety.”