The Smart Belt Coalition Takes Shape

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【Summary】Three states have joined together to create a massive autonomous vehicle testing zone.

Original Aaron Phillips    Mar 26, 2017 12:10 PM PT
The Smart Belt Coalition Takes Shape

According to a report from the Michigan Department of Transportation, self-driving car companies in the Midwest have a new advocate in the government.

The Smart Belt Coalition, a partnership between three states and a handful of universities and private companies, has been formed to ensure that next-gen car manufacturers are getting the support they need. Government transportation officials in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are joining forces to secure funding and open up roadways for autonomous car initiatives.

Smart Belt Members began to meet in late 2016 in order to lay out their goals and create a strategic plan. The coalition's first job is to standardize the application process for testing self-driving cars in the tristate area, agree on a system for reporting traffic incidents, and come up with rules for self-driving semis.

According to Michigan State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle, "This initiative highlights the collaboration we know will be necessary as mobility evolves at an exponential pace. Working closely with our colleagues in neighboring states will pay dividends for all of us while we continue to leverage our existing partnerships with universities and the American Center for Mobility."

Over 750,000 Miles of Roads Open for Testing

One of the biggest benefits to self-driving car manufacturers will be the amount of access that they get to highways. By streamlining the interstate permit process, the Smart Belt Coalition will be able to open up over 750,000 miles of roads for testing.

In comparison, California – which is where most road tests are currently taking place – offers engineers about 400,000 miles of open road to drive on.

Having that space available to engineers in the Midwest should open up new opportunities for manufacturing and development, potentially bringing back much-needed jobs to the region.

Aside from opening up more miles or roadways to autonomous car manufacturers, the Smart Belt Coalition is also looking to provide new climates for testing.

California's mild weather and clear skies made the state a good choice for initial tests, but now that autonomous driving systems are maturing they need to be put through their paces.

The Smart Belt states think that their bad weather and heavy snowfall will provide engineers with some much-needed data on performance in adverse conditions.

Private Companies and Universities Taking Part


Proposed 325-acre Willow Run Facility owned by The Center for Mobility 

In addition to the three states that make up the core of the Smart Belt Coalition, a handful of other public and private entities are hopping onboard.

Three top-tier engineering schools -- Carnegie Mellon, Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan -- are getting involved right from the start. One of the group's priorities is to make data sharing for pure research purposes more acceptable to an industry that has been intensely private about its data.

Faculty from these three schools are likely to make recommendations about data sharing and other technical aspects of the coalition.

The Center for Mobility, which currently tests and certifies self-driving cars in Michigan, has been brought in on the project. The Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpike commissions are lending their support as well.

Working together, all of these different organizations and agencies will be forging regulatory, certification, and reporting paths that other states around the country are likely to follow.

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