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Ohio's Transportation Research Center to Take Over Operations of a 225-Acre Autonomous Vehicle Test Site in California at a Former Air Force Base

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【Summary】The Transportation Research Center (TRC Inc.) in Liberty, Ohio announced on Tuesday that its taking over day-to-day operations of the California AutoTech Testing and Development Center at the shuttered Castle Air Force Base in Merced, California, located about 115 miles east of Silicon Valley. The former Air Force base is currently home to Waymo’s 105-acre Autonomous Vehicle Test Center.

FutureCar Staff    Feb 02, 2021 3:30 PM PT
Ohio's Transportation Research Center to Take Over Operations of a 225-Acre Autonomous Vehicle Test Site in California at a Former Air Force Base
A portion of runway at the former Castle Air Force Base in August 2018. (Photo: Andrew Kuhn, Merced Sun-Star)

Silicon Valley is a hotbed for the testing of self-driving vehicles and other advanced mobility technology. Vehicles packed with sensors for automated driving or data collection are a frequent sight on public roads in the area, which is no surprise given its proximity to some of the world's biggest tech companies that are working on autonomous driving and related technology.

However there is another, more secretive private testing facility west of the San Francisco Bay Area named the "California AutoTech Testing and Development Center'' (CATDC). It's located at the shuttered Castle Air Force Base in Merced, California, which is located 115 miles east of Silicon Valley.

Now the sprawling facility will undergo improvements after the Transportation Research Center (TRC Inc.) in Liberty, Ohio announced on Tuesday that its taking over day-to-day operations of the site. 

The Castle Air Force base closed in Sept 1995. Since then its been largely dormant, with the exception of the Castle Air Museum, a military aviation museum that opened near the site in 1981. 

Ohio-based TRC Inc. is one of North America's most comprehensive automotive testing organizations. The company claims to operate the largest independent vehicle testing facility and proving grounds in the U.S. Since the 1970s, TRC's testing facility in Ohio has been home of the federal vehicle research and test laboratory for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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TRC Inc. signed a ten-year agreement with the Merced County Board of Supervisors to manage the 225-acre CATDC testing complex. TRC will bring its nearly 50 years of technical expertise as an engineering services firm to create a comprehensive testing site for all things mobility, according to the company.

After TRC Inc. assumes management of the facility, it plans to complete development of advanced testing facilities there, especially new capabilities geared toward research on autonomous and connected vehicles. 

"We are excited to bring our engineering and technical experience to Merced County to help this growing facility reach its full potential," said Brett Roubinek, TRC Inc.'s president and CEO.  "With this strategic location adjacent to Silicon Valley and the Bay Region, CATDC and TRC Inc. give the West Coast's automotive innovators, start ups as well as OEMs, convenient access to the testing facilities and expertise needed to validate their advanced mobility technologies."

TRC Inc. currently operates the 540-acre SMARTCenter in Ohio, which provides companies with a roadway complex especially designed for testing automated and connected vehicle systems in a safe, secure and repeatable real-world environment.

TRC's Ohio test site includes a 1.2 mile, six lane wide connected, signalized intersection along with an urban network consisting of movable intersections and roundabouts The site also features Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) and high speed wireless communication to test cellular vehicles to everything (C-V2X) communications technology.

TRC Inc. was selected to manage and expand the county-owned research center in California after an extensive request for proposal process conducted by professional services firm KPMG International for the Merced County Board of Supervisors, which oversees the use of the site.

The former Air Force base in an unincorporated area of California is an ideal location for companies to test cutting technology such as self-driving vehicles, away from the general public in a secure and safe location that's not open to outsiders.

The CATDC is located adjacent to the tower-controlled Castle Airport with a 11,800-foot runway that's also available for companies to perform automotive testing.

Since its inception, the CATDC has attracted top companies in and around Silicon Valley, including Waymo, which spun out of Google's self-driving car project. In December, Waymo announced it was opening a second test site at TRC's SMARTCenter in Ohio. 

The former Air Force base in California is currently home to Waymo's proprietary 105-acre Autonomous Vehicle Castle Test Center, which is adjacent to CATDC's Main Campus complex. The rest of the facility is available to automakers and technology firms and startups for vehicle testing.

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A Wamyo self-driving minvan without a safety driver testing at the former Castle Air Force Base.

The main campus of the CATDC in California offers high-speed testing for a wide range of automotive OEMs, tech companies and startups. The site features urban-grid automotive test zones built upon existing infrastructure left over from its time as a bustling military facility. 

"Under the leadership of respected experts in automotive technology and research, we will make Merced County a destination for the high-tech firms and innovators who are reshaping transportation worldwide," said Daron McDaniel, Chairman of the Merced County Board of Supervisors.

The San Francisco Bay Area is also home to another vehicle test site just east of San Francisco, which is also located at a former military base. 

The 2,100 acre GoMentum Station is located at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station in Concord, California. It's become a center of cutting-edge transportation research and vehicle testing in California. 

The former military base is an ideal location for testing self-driving vehicles, complete with over 19 miles of paved roads, overpasses, buildings, and other infrastructure that autonomous cars must contend with in the real world. Since its a private facility, companies are free to test vehicles with or without drivers present in the vehicle. 

GoMentum is owned and operated by AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah and is open to automakers looking for a secure and private place to test their vehicles.

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