Ohio Hosts Longest Connect Highway for Driverless Cars

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【Summary】So far, the city has injected over $218 million into the ground-breaking project. If everything goes according to plan, the fiber network will be ready by the end of this month.

  Michael Cheng  ·  Aug 09, 2017 11:45 AM PT
author: Michael Cheng   

Improving self-driving car networks starts with connected infrastructure. Unfortunately, most roadways in the US are far from connected. Only in urban locations will you see beacons on sidewalks that offer real-time weather information and smart traffic lights that "talk" to modern cars.

In order to get a head start on building connected highways for autonomous vehicles, some states are upgrading their roads. Out of all the states making this transition, local transportation groups in Ohio seem to be the most persistent in getting the job done. Officials from Columbus, Ohio are in the process of converting parts of US Route 33 to become the country's longest "autonomous-ready" roadway.

Preparing for a Connected Future

Stretching between Columbus west to East Liberty, the 35-mile path will be wrapped in a complex, fiber-optic cable network. The cable lines are capable of hosting up to seven different types of fiber components, measuring six inches in diameter. This may facilitate sensors that will eventually be installed on the highway, for driverless cars. Traffic, weather, obstructions, accidents and national alerts are examples of data that will pass through the system. So far, the city has injected over $218 million into the ground-breaking project. If everything goes according to plan, the fiber network will be ready by the end of this month.

"I really want this area to be the new Research Triangle for autonomous and connected vehicles," said Eric Phillips, CEO of Union County Economic Development Partnership.

After the installation of the fiber network, the next phase of the project will focus on setting up robust communication towers along the highway. Short-range radio transmitters will be installed, at increments of 600 meters. This will serve government vehicles and other city vessels.

Catering to Autonomous Trucks

Ohio's interest in driverless transportation can be traced back to its partnership with Otto. In 2016, city officials announced the highly anticipated introduction of autonomous trucking programs in the area. It is important to note that truck driving is one of the most common professions in the state, totaling roughly 72,000 local truck drivers. Ohio State's Center for Automotive Research is working closely with the Ohio Department of Transportation to streamline the testing of driverless trucks. The state is deeply invested in the project, contributing over $15 million in funding (which includes a mix of local and federal sources).

"What we're developing and what we're investing in is a real world proving ground that will allow researchers and engineers to develop the transportation of the future. This is a great asset for Ohio, for this community. It puts us in the vanguard of the smart mobility movement that's moving across the nation," highlighted Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray.

While driverless trucks could endanger the jobs of truck drivers, it won't happen in the near future. When self-driving tech for trucks becomes available, human operators will likely still be needed to oversee the system. Even with SAE-L5 autonomous trucks on the road, a human fleet manager must carefully supervise the vessels remotely.

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