Uber is Eyeing a Dormant Pittsburgh Area Airport to Build Autonomous Vehicle Test Site

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【Summary】According to recent documents filed in Pennsylvania, ride-hailing giant Uber is seeking approval to build a private autonomous vehicle test site at the dormant Campbell Airport in South Fayette Township, about 15 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

Eric Walz    Aug 23, 2019 11:40 AM PT
Uber is Eyeing a Dormant Pittsburgh Area Airport to Build Autonomous Vehicle Test Site
Uber's current autonomous test site near its Pittsburgh headquarters.

Much of the important safety testing of autonomous vehicles goes on behind the scenes at private facilities rather than on public roads. Waymo for example, has a test site in Michigan and another in California at the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, which closed in 1995. 

Now it looks as though Uber might get its own former airport to test self-driving cars in Pennsylvania.

According to documents filed on July 25, 2019, ride-hailing giant Uber is seeking a conditional use land development approval to build a private autonomous vehicle test track at the former Campbell Airport in South Fayette Township. The 430 acre site is about 15 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

The office of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) is located nearby in Pittsburgh. 

As reported by the Observer Reporter, South Fayette's board of commissioners held a hearing Wednesday for public comment on the application. During the hearing, representative Paul Anderson revealed a proposal for the "Establishment of Planned Research and Technology Park" at the airport.

If approved, the proposal would transform the long-dormant Campbell Airport on Millers Run Road into a testing ground for autonomous vehicles. The test site It would have about 200 Uber employees in "high-tech and high-paying jobs," according Anderson, a Pittsburgh civil engineer and a representative of the developers.

Anerdeon's Linkedin profile lists him as "Environmental Health & Safety & Facilities Development Manager at Uber."

Anderson said the research and technology park had the potential to be "a center of excellence for autonomous technology," and was not aware of any similar autonomous vehicle testing grounds anywhere else in the United States.

Uber spokesperson Sarah Abboud confirmed that Uber submitted an application to South Fayette Township to develop the site. However, she said the ride-hailing company was still in early planning stages and is only accessing the site as a possible location for a future self-driving test track.

In a statement Abboud wrote, "We are proud of Uber ATG's Western PA roots and keep an eye to the future at all times. I can confirm that we are assessing potential test track locations for future engineering needs."


The location of the closed Campbell Airport southwest of Pittsburgh.

The ride-hailing company already operates a smaller test facility closer to it Pittsburgh headquarters. The current site, which was completed in 2016, was built to mimic an urban environment complete with paved roads, empty truck trailers acting as buildings, parked vehicles, traffic lights, intersections and mannequins standing in for pedestrians.

According to documents, the site will be developed by KU Resources Inc, an environmental consulting firm that focuses on environmental management and site development engineering. The firm redevelops brownfields under both Federal and State programs. The firm website says that the company's experience includes project planning and management, site characterization, risk assessment, remedy planning and construction.

South Fayette's planning commission was due to vote on whether to green-light the proposal on Thursday. If so, the commissioners are expected to vote on it at their next regular meeting on Sept 11.

According the Observer Reporter,  some members of South Fayette's planning board appeared enthusiastic. Commissioner Lisa Malosh said the proposal "sounds really exciting," while fellow commissioner Raymond Pitetti said the plan "sounds awesome."

Uber's Planned Test Site Will Resemble a Urban Streetscape

If approved, an observation tower could also be built at the site, Anderson said. He also said the test area will feature traffic signals, the facades of buildings, fake trees and other features of a cityscape. 

When asked about noise from the test site, Anderson said that Hybrid, autonomous vehicles are "a quiet system," and the research and technology park would meet the township's light and noise requirements.

Anderson said the park would allow the makers of autonomous vehicles to troubleshoot their product "in a controlled environment with stringent safety standards."

Being that the site is a former airport, its possible that Uber might use the facility to test vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL) for its planned Uber Elevate service which will offer aerial ridesharing.

Campbell Airport had a single runway and was a takeoff and landing strip for the owners of small airplanes. The airport shuttered in the mid-1990s.

Other automakers and tech companies, including Uber's chief rival Lyft, Toyota, Honda, Baidu as well as Uber, are testing autonomous vehicles in California at GoMentum Station, currently the nation's largest autonomous vehicle test site in Concord 30 miles east of San Francisco.

resource from: Observer-Reporter

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