State funding to fuel expansion of autonomous vehicle R&D
The path toward a safe and smart autonomous car hit the fast lane Thursday with a $45 million commitment to expand The Ohio State University-affiliated Transportation Research Center. The funds will support research and innovation for autonomous – or driverless – vehicles.
President Michael V. Drake announced the funding with Gov. John Kasich at an event at Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research. Ohio State will contribute $25 million to TRC, with an additional $20 million coming from the state.
“This affirms our commitment to work with the state, the auto industry and the federal government and to lead the charge in automated vehicle testing and research,” Drake said.
Kasich said the investment fits a larger goal of modernizing the state’s economy and work force.
“My goal was to move us off of being just a manufacturing town. People say we’re the rust belt. That’s offensive to me; I think we’re the knowledge belt,” he said.
In addition to the university and state funding, the College of Engineering has committed $24 million over five years to hire faculty and staff to support research into autonomous vehicle technology.
The $45 million in new funding is part of an eventual $100 million improvement of the TRC in East Liberty, Ohio. The center is the nation’s largest independent test track.
“There’s been an explosion around the world in the demand for developing autonomous vehicles and the testing of autonomous vehicles,” said TRC Chief Executive Officer Mark-Tami Hotta.
Hotta said the center would provide a solution to meet that demand. The grant will enable creation of the nation's largest high-speed intersection for testing.
The testing site is expected to be as long as 10 football fields and as wide as 50 highway lanes. The expansion will also include a simulated neighborhood with traffic lights, roundabouts and intersections and a site that mirrors a rural community.
“We’re glad to be a part of the governor’s broader transportation agenda and together, we’ll continue to move the Ohio economic agenda forward,” said Alex Shumate, chairman of the university Board of Trustees.
The announcement follows several recent moves that highlight Ohio State’s leading role in advancing the future of transportation. Last year, Ohio State was named the lead research partner in the $140 million Smart City program.
Smart Cities partners the university, the City of Columbus and local organizations to transform Central Ohio into a premier transportation innovation region.