Ohio is probably not the first place that comes to mind when people think of ground-breaking transportation technology. But a deeper look into some of the work being done at the Transportation Research Center (TRC) reveals how the Ohio-based facility based is poised to drive the future of mobility.
- The Transportation Research Center (TRC) recently opened an entirely new facility devoted to the advanced testing of connected and automated vehicles.
- TRC’s new SMARTCenter is considered the most advanced test site for self-driving vehicles in North America.
- The SMARTCenter features a number of unique testing elements and a team of on-site engineers and researchers.
Softcar testing is one of many self-driving testing services offered at the TRC SMARTCenter. (Photo: Transportation Research Center)
TRC and SMARTCenter
Some 50 miles on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio lies a fairly little-known tech facility that could very well anchor the future of fully autonomous vehicles.
The sprawling nearly 5,000-acre site, located in East Liberty, is home to the Transportation Research Center (TRC) and its new SMARTCenter, touted as the most advanced testing site for automated and connected vehicles in North America.
Andrew Mathers, Director of Facilities at The Research Center, tells Ride that TRC’s focus is on servicing a broader crossroad where various entities tied to the world of transportation intersect, rather than just the industry itself.
“TRC is a service provider to the entire mobility industry,” says Mathers. “We cater to all OEMs, Tier 1s technology companies, government, academia. Basically, anyone in the industry can come to us for services.”
Completed earlier this year, the SMARTCenter is a state-of-the-art facility devoted entirely to helping to pioneer the self-driving technology of today and those of the future. The center serves as a testing ground for both passenger and commercial vehicles, with a focus on providing safe controls and repeatable scenarios for testing automated and connected vehicles in a closed course environment.
The TRC facility Features include the longest and widest connected, signalized intersection in the industry, which measures 1.2 miles in length and six lanes wide, as detailed in an official TRC press release.
In addition, the facility has an urban network of movable intersections and roundabouts and its SMARTCenter Control building, which houses TRC’s rapidly growing team of engineers, who work on automated and connected vehicle projects under TRC’s Advanced Mobility Group. The TRC team also includes a number of the country’s top tech and research experts, who work to better support the wide range of customers and companies that use TRC to help in different areas of vehicle testing.
The SMARTCenter Control Building houses TRC’s Advanced Mobility Group. (Photo: Transportation Research Center)
The bigger goal
TRC’s overall goal, explains Mathers, is to be able to account for nearly every possible driving scenario an autonomous vehicle might possibly be subjected to in the real world.
“There’s a (number) of challenges that a vehicle might experience out on the road. So, one of the challenges is trying to test for every scenario, what might be encountered out on the road, and making sure that those have all been accounted for,” he says.
The SMART Center, which cost $45 million to build with funds raised by the State of Ohio, JobsOhio and The Ohio State University, also features full site access to Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) and high-speed wireless communication. There is also an underground power distribution and fiber network to support current and future test technologies.
It’s all fits into how TRC envisions its role in the future of automated and connected vehicles. “Certainly, we see ourselves providing that kind of pre-deployment and control validation (and) location,” explains Mathers. “But I do think that the interaction that we provide between academia, government and industry is pretty key in that we are bringing different experts from different areas all together.”
WHY THIS MATTERS
In addition to the testing being done at TRC for many of today’s vehicles, it’s clear that the SMARTCenter will play a pivotal role in the widespread adaption of autonomous vehicles in the future. But more immediately, the facility could also help spur some real-road test scenarios to help improve the capability of self-driving technology across rural areas, in partnership with nearby cities like Detroit and Indianapolis, as potentially connecting mobility hubs with Columbus.