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Autonomous vehicle research track up and running

A new $45 million research park dedicated to developing the newest generation of automated and connected vehicles is open for business.

The Transportation Research Center’s new Smart Mobility Advance Research Test Center, or SMARTCenter, opened Wednesday with a demonstration for state and local leaders. The state-of-the-art facility is two-thirds the size of Central Park.

The SMARTCenter is a partnership between the state, the economic development nonprofit JobsOhio and The Ohio State University. Ohio State’s Senior Vice President for Research Morley Stone said the test facility enables the university to sustain its status as a world leader in autonomous vehicle research.

“From a research area standpoint, there are no areas out there that are more exciting than what’s happening in autonomous vehicles writ large,” Stone said. “To actually have the world’s premier test track in our backyard is an enormous asset for our research enterprise.”

David Williams, dean of the College of Engineering and a member of TRC’s board of directors, agreed.

“If you want to be at the forefront of smart mobility, we are the place to do it. The scale that we have here is unprecedented compared to every other university in the country,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted led the ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the center. He said the project keeps Ohio at the forefront of important research and will attract business to the state.

“Why in the world, if I was in this space, wouldn’t I want to be in central Ohio? This is where every company in the world should want to have a presence because there’s going to be some amazing innovations going on here that will affect the lives of everybody in the world,” he said.

The center features the longest and widest data-connected intersection in the industry. Operations are managed in a 10,000-square-foot control building with garages and research space.

When the project is finished, it will feature an urban network area allowing researchers to test vehicles in a variety of moveable intersections, roundabouts and road configurations.

“It benefits the university in several ways. First of all, for this to succeed, there need to be two things: fundamental research and then applied research with a workforce that can actually translate the research into reality,” Williams said. “At Ohio State, we bring both of those aspects to TRC. We are the research in the Transportation Research Center.”

The SMARTCenter is not just a boon to researchers; it will also support students preparing for the jobs of the future.

“Imagine the experience that our students are going to have using this as a research test bed,” Stone said. “The ability to walk into a state-of-the-art facility, that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, and be able to test in real-world environments – that’s truly remarkable.”

by Chris Booker and Aaron Nestor, Ohio State News