COLUMBUS, Ohio – DriveOhio‘s Rural Automated Driving Systems will deploy automated vehicles, including 18-wheelers, on rural roadways in central and southeast Ohio as part of a project to gather data to help define future technology needs.
“Most automated driving systems have been tested in urban areas, but there’s still much to learn about how automated vehicles operate in rural areas when navigating around curves, over hills, and in and out of shaded areas,” a news release stated.
“Automated driving systems are expected to transform roadway safety in the future, and the data collected with this project will be used to refine the technology to maximize its potential,” DriveOhio Executive Director Preeti Choudhary said. “This critical work will provide valuable information to help advance the safe integration of automated vehicle technologies in Ohio and across the nation.”
The vehicles have already been tested at the Transportation Research Center (TRC) Inc.’s 4,500-acre proving grounds in East Liberty, Ohio.
This provided closed roadway testing over a full range of navigational situations that are encountered in everyday driving before the driving automation system equipped vehicles are taken onto public roadways and highways.
“The project is funded in part by a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. the project aims to demonstrate how connected and automated semi-trucks and passenger vehicles could improve safety for drivers, passengers and other travelers in rural settings,” the news release stated.
The project, which focuses on 32 counties in Ohio’s rural Appalachian region, is being called the most comprehensive testing effort yet to be conducted on rural roads in the United States.
“This project holds great promise for the future of transportation and the economic wellbeing of rural communities, while strengthening Ohio’s historic reputation as a world leader in transportation safety and innovation,” Brett Roubinek, president and CEO of TRC Inc, said.
The first of two deployments include three passenger vehicles equipped with AutomouStuff technology traveling on divided highways and rural two-lane roads in Athens and Vinton counties.
They will be tested in different operational and environmental conditions, including in periods of limited visibility and in work zones. When the automated driving system is engaged, the technology will control steering, acceleration, and braking. Throughout the year-long deployment, a professional driver will always be in the driver’s seat with their hands on the wheel, ready to take over if needed.
“Many vehicles on the road today already have some degree of automated driving system technologies like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, or emergency braking,” Choudhary said. “Those systems are meant to enhance safety, but they certainly don’t replace the human driver.”
In addition to rigorous testing at the TRC, the deployment relies on high-definition mapping of specific routes that is then verified by professional drivers before engaging the automated technology. These maps provide the advanced driving system precise information about the surrounding environment including explicit roadway characteristics such as lane widths and the location of signals, crosswalks, and nearby buildings.
“The rural Appalachian area surrounding Ohio University would greatly benefit from using autonomous vehicles to deliver goods and transport people, but the road conditions are very different than urban and suburban regions,” Dr. Jay Wilhelm, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio University, said. “This project gives us an incredible opportunity to test automated vehicles in rural areas and gather data to demonstrate the unique challenges and work towards solutions. Our goal is to bridge the technology gap in rural Appalachian communities so automated vehicles can improve quality of life throughout the region.”
The second deployment will feature a pair of 53-foot platoon-equipped tractor-trailers connected by technology that enables them to travel closely together at highway speeds. When the trucks are connected, the lead vehicle controls the speed, and the following vehicle “will have precisely matched braking and acceleration to respond to the lead vehicle’s movement,” the news release noted.
The trucks used in this project are equipped with radar to detect other vehicles.
“This technology allows the trucks to monitor and react to the environment around them in certain ways, such as following the lead vehicle and responding to slower moving traffic; however, human engagement in the driving task is critical. Like the first deployment, a professional driver will always be in the driver’s seat with their hands on the wheel,” according to the news release.
The trucks will first be deployed on the 35-mile U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor, specifically designed for testing smart and connected vehicles. Later this year, a private fleet will begin using the trucks in their day-to-day business operations.
In addition to increased efficiency and reduced fuel consumption for fleets, development of this technology ultimately aims to reduce human error, making Ohio’s roads safer. The significant impact on roadway safety makes the Ohio State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement key partners in the effort.
The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.