Investment will make region’s focal point

By Brett Roubinek

For Dayton and other communities straddling Interstate 70 in western Ohio, announcement of a new $8.9 million investment in advanced transportation technologies along the region’s vital economic corridor is good news indeed.

Of course, word that investments like this are attracted to our region, with its strategic location and long history of transportation innovation, should come as no surprise. The Wright Brothers, Charles Kettering and our other transportation pioneers would be the first to understand.

A $4.4 million Federal Highway Administration grant, backed by $4.5 million in state and private-sector match, is funding research on Ohio’s portion of the Interstate 70 Truck Automation Corridor, a four-year study along more than 150 miles of highway between Columbus and Indianapolis. Additional funding from Indiana partners supports that state’s portion of the project. The focus of this research will advance development of automated and connected truck-transportation technologies to improve highway safety, ease congestion and strengthen the trucking industry’s economic impact on state and local economies.

The I-70 Truck Automation Corridor is a two-state partnership of Ohio and Indiana in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Transportation. Partners on the eastern stretch of the corridor include the Ohio Department of Transportation and DriveOhio, the state’s center for smart mobility innovation, along with a broad array of technology providers, truck manufacturers, regional logistics councils and private freight companies. The Indiana Department of Transportation will lead research on the project’s western segments.

My own organization, Transportation Research Inc. (TRC) in East Liberty, Ohio , is a crucial project partner with both states, working with transportation agencies and their industry partners to deploy and evaluate smart logistics solutions – including sensors, wireless communications and other advanced technologies — along the entire corridor.

As the basis for this research, the trucking industry and smart mobility innovators will be able to deploy partially automated driving technologies in daily, real-life operations as a crucial step beyond laboratory and test track simulations. To ensure the safe application of these technologies on a public interstate, TRC will provide professional driver training for host fleets and perform automation audits of data collected by project research. At all times during public road testing, a professional driver will be at the wheel, should human intervention be required.

There will be multiple benefits from this research. TRC’s analysis of the data generated will provide Ohio and Indiana officials with insights they need to ensure their roadways are ready for partially automated vehicles. Federal transportation agencies will use the data to develop policies and procedures affecting the entire nation. Vehicle manufacturers, systems developers and trucking operators will learn important lessons to improve their products and inspire even greater innovation. While this project is focused on the trucking industry and interstate highways, it should also have applications for passenger car transportation and smart mobility systems on local highways, urban streets and rural roads.

For states like Ohio, shifting from a 20th century “rust belt” economy, the digital era has created entire new industries, new ways to deliver products and, importantly, new ways to test and refine those technologies for safety, practicality and endurance. Fortunately, Ohio is up to the challenge.

I see proof of that every day as president and CEO of TRC, North America’s largest, most advanced transportation test track and research organization. Located in East Liberty, 35 miles north of I-70, TRC’s 4,500-acre independent testing facility is a focal point for much of the research and innovation that’s transforming transportation today.

In fact, the I-70 Truck Automation Corridor project is yet another example of a research project where TRC is a key partner. Ohio’s first smart highway, the U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor begins literally at TRC’s front gate and runs along 35 miles of limited-access highway to the outskirts of Columbus. Equipped with a high-capacity fiber optic network and state-of-the-art sensors, this corridor like that just announced for I-70 allows these new technologies to be safely tested in real-life traffic situations and a range of weather conditions.

TRC’s newest step forward is our Smart Mobility Research and Technology facility or SMARTCenter. This 540-acre complex is specifically designed to test automated driving systems that use autonomous and connected vehicles, smart highways, sensors and other innovations to make driving safer. We’re also engaged with Locomation and Plus.ai, two of the world’s leaders in autonomous truck driving systems.

For more than a century, Ohio has been at the heart of transportation manufacturing, innovation and research — much of it here in the region now spanned by the I-70 Trucking Research Corridor. From my years of experience at TRC and the automotive industry, I know that lessons learned from this research will not only boost our state’s transportation, manufacturing and logistics economies, it will also enhance Ohio’s historic reputation as a world leader in transportation safety and innovation.