Ohio Governor Welcoming Self-Driving Cars to the State

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【Summary】Ohio Governor John Kasich said he wants to make the state the “wild, wild west” for self-driving car testing.

Eric Walz    May 11, 2018 2:39 PM PT
Ohio Governor Welcoming Self-Driving Cars to the State

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Although the state of Ohio, situated in America's 'rust belt', is not normally associated with autonomous driving technology, the State's Governor John Kasich wants it to become one.

Ohio Governor John Kasich said he wants to make the state the "wild, wild west" for self-driving car testing, regardless of the recent fatal crash involving Uber in Arizona.

The Republican governor called the March 18 self-driving Uber fatality in Arizona "terrible," he is forging ahead with plans to welcome tech companies to the state.

Kasich signed an executive order this week allowing companies to test cars on any public road in the state, even without a safety driver behind the wheel. The order requires a licensed driver to monitor the car remotely and have the ability to avoid accidents if the car's autonomous systems fail.

"You'll always have to take risks," Kasich said this week while announcing the order. "If you don't take risks, you die."

Arizona ordered Uber to stop operating autonomous cars there indefinitely a week after the death of a pedestrian who was crossing the road at night in Tempe. Uber had already voluntarily halted testing companywide and has yet to resume testing of self-driving cars on public roads.

Keeping up with Pittsburgh

Kasich said he grew "more and more angry" when reading about how nearby Pittsburgh had become a chosen testing ground for Uber several years ago, because Ohio wasn't keeping up. "I kept saying to my folks, ‘What are we doing here?"' he said to Bloomberg.

"Ohio is well positioned to lead in developing the cars of the future, and just as Wright Brothers did at Huffman Prairie, our great state stands ready to once again launch a new era in transportation," said Kasich. "We have the diversity in weather and terrain that are essential to advancing these new technologies.  The sooner these vehicles are safely fine-tuned, the sooner they can make a significant reduction in the 40,000 traffic deaths we have in this country every year."

Kasich said his mother and father were killed by drunk drivers, and that autonomous vehicles will prevent "senseless death" and "carnage" on highways.


A self-drving Uber car in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh was chosen by ride-hailing giant Uber to test self-driving technology partly due to its access to Carnegie Mellon University and the National Robotics Engineering Center, which it operates—a world renowned robotics research facility. In 2015, Uber poached about 50 people from Carnegie Mellon, including many from its highest ranks, to jumpstart its autonomous driving program.

However, Kasich did not mention reports that Uber's relationship with residents and city officials in Pittsburgh deteriorated within a matter of months for Uber failing to help the city earn a federal "Smart Cities" grant and not delivering as many jobs to the city as Uber promised.

The governor said Ohio should rank among the top five states for development of the technology, along with California, Arizona, Florida and Michigan.

"We got the winning team," Kasich said. "You just got to put the ball in the end zone, and I think with this executive order, it's going to send a big message that we're ready to roll."

The Knowledge Belt

Kasich is looking to distance Ohio from its manufacturing past and towards its future. The term ‘rust belt' was given to the region, once known for its thriving steel industry, in the 1980's as steel production declined and left shuttered factories and jobs behind.

The region supported America's booming industrial age, including automobile manufacturing. The ‘rust belt' traverses several states, including Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Kasich argues that significant changes to Ohio's economy make its deserving of a new nickname—the ‘Knowledge Belt'.

President Donald Trump thoughtlessly reinforced the rust belt label during last year's election. During a visit to Columbus, the Republican President painted Ohio and Pennsylvania as states where "everything is rusting and rotting."

Ohio lost 405,000 manufacturing jobs between 1969, when employment at Ohio factories peaked, and 1983, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, advances and innovations are bringing the sector back, with 76,000 jobs added as of 2016. Today, Ohio is making advances in such areas as drones, data analytics and biohealth, as well as autonomous vehicle research.

Drive Ohio

The executive order authorizes researchers to test on Ohio roadways as long as their vehicles meet certain safety requirements and are capable of complying with Ohio traffic regulations.  

The order also requests that they register their vehicles with Drive Ohio – the state's mobility initiative, by providing information on the vehicle and where they wish to test. Each car must have a designated operator who is an employee of the company performing the tests as well as a valid driver's license. Designated operators will be required to monitor the vehicle at all times and report any accidents that occur.

The order also creates a voluntary Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Program to assist local governments in working with automotive and technology companies to advance technologies in their communities. Municipalities will have the opportunity to work with Drive Ohio and create an inventory of testing locations that offer a variety of traffic and terrain scenarios.

The state of Ohio is already working on smart vehicle technology. Ohio is investing in infrastructure upgrades that will allow devices on roads and traffic-control signals to information to drivers—known as Vehicle to Infrastructure, or V2I.  

Current initiatives already underway in Ohio include four smart road projects covering 164 miles of roadway, and two smart city projects.

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