Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, April 16 newspaper on Page A1.
DriveOhio has submitted a grant application seeking $10 million for a project to gather data on the efficacy of driverless vehicles in rural areas, and there are proposed roles for Ohio University, the city of Athens and roadways in both Athens and Vinton counties.
The application was submitted last month to the U.S. Department of Transportation. DriveOhio is tasked by the Ohio Department of Transportation to advance smart mobility issues. The proposed project would be called D.A.T.A. in Ohio, with the acronym standing for Deploying Automated Technology Anywhere.
“The D.A.T.A. in Ohio will test autonomous driving (ADS) resources in a rural environment,” said Rich Granger of DriveOhio. “Research data and insights gathered through D.A.T.A in Ohio will enable local, state and federal agencies to develop more effective and informed ADS policies that benefit all regions of Ohio and the nation.”
DriveOhio officials are expecting to hear this spring if the grant is funded. The U.S. Department of Transportation is making up to $60 million available for automated driving system demonstration grants, and the department’s website indicates that more than 70 applications were submitted.
Under the DriveOhio proposal, there would be four years of program activities, including at least two years of on-road demonstration of driverless vehicles. However, the vehicles would also have a human safety driver who could take control if need be.
Both passenger vehicles and platooning of trucks with automated driving systems would be tested if the grant is funded.
Among the preliminary routes identified are Routes 33, 50 and 32.
After a period of closed-track testing at the Transportation Research Center in northwestern Ohio, passenger vehicles with automated driving systems would be deployed on the selected routes. Initial on-road testing would focus on safety data collection.
“Future phases during the program are anticipated to include passengers on the vehicles, subject to further discussion with regional stakeholders and technical subject matter experts,” according to information DriveOhio supplied in response to questions from The Messenger.
An executive summary of the proposed project indicates that potential passenger routes could include Athens to McArthur; parts of Routes of 356 and 278; and others roads in Athens and Vinton counties.
Scott Miller, associate dean for industry partnerships in Russ College of Engineer and Technology at OU, said part of the project would look at the feasibility of using vehicles equipped with automated driving systems to take people to medical appointments, and to provide better access to healthy foods.
The OU Diabetes Institute would be consulted on community outreach and health outcomes, according to DriveOhio, which also told The Messenger that the Ohio Research Institute for Transportation and the Environment at OU would be involved in the project.
DriveOhio said the city of Athens would be involved in sharing data and providing access to public property and assets within the city for deployment of technology.
Athens Service-Safety Director Andy Stone, who is on the DriveOhio Government Advisory Board, explained the city’s role would be to provide access to city rights-of-way for roadside units that would “talk” to units on board the vehicles. Those roadside units could draw power from such sources as traffic signals and street lights. Also, Athens Transit buses could be used to collect data on how the transit system currently operates and interacts with riders.
“We are excited to partner with Ohio University, the city of Athens and the Buckeye Hills Regional Council to propose the D.A.T.A. in Ohio research project,” said DriveOhio Executive Director Jim Barna.
Buckeye Hills’ role would be to support communication and advocacy among member communities and partner agencies, providing feedback and other insights.
The project’s executive summary points out that testing and deployment of automated driving systems has so far focused on densely populated areas, with a “striking lack of data” from rural areas. Ohio, with its four seasons of differing weather, varying terrain, and roadways ranging from two-lane roads to divided highways, is a microcosm of the United States, it’s argued.
“These factors make Ohio an ideal testbed for generating safety performance and rulemaking data transferable to the entire nation,” the summary states.