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State, university leaders break ground on North America's largest autonomous vehicle testing center

TRC groundbreakingGov. John Kasich joined leaders from The Ohio State University, the Ohio Department of Transportation, JobsOhio and other organizations at TRC

A new state-of-the-art testing ground for autonomous and connected vehicles is one step closer to reality. 

Gov. John Kasich joined leaders from The Ohio State University, the Ohio Department of Transportation, JobsOhio and other organizations to break ground on the Transportation Research Center’s new SMART Center Monday in East Liberty.

The 540-acre vehicle testing area will be the largest facility of its kind in North America offering year-round testing in all weather conditions. The first portion of the proving ground is expected to open later this year.

“What this is going to do is give people the opportunity all over the world to be going 24/7, to test in all conditions and to have multiple cars on the road,” Kasich said. “This is going to be the coolest place to go with your kids.”

Last year, Kasich joined President Michael V. Drake to announce a $45 million investment in TRC to build the new SMART Center. The College of Engineering has committed $24 million over five years to hire faculty and staff to support research into autonomous vehicle technology.

Ohio State Interim Senior Vice President for Research Randy Moses said the new center will be a boon to students and faculty in fields from engineering to computer science.

“All of the students that will be out here will get a hands-on-experience and learning opportunities that are really unprecedented,” Moses said. “With smart vehicles, it’s not just about mechanical engineering anymore, it’s electrical engineering, it’s sensing, it’s the network. It is also communications and the social aspects of the human-machine interface. And so this allows teams much broader than in any college or discipline who can come together and work on these kinds of problems.”

The SMART Center comes as TRC is experiencing a record year in terms of the number of clients who use the facility. TRC President and CEO Brett Roubinek expects the trend to continue.

“The SMART Center will accelerate that growth and continue to create further jobs,” he said.

The SMART Center will also connect to the U.S. Route 33 Smart Mobility Corridor, a 35-mile stretch that will be one of the “smartest” highways in the country. The Ohio Department of Transportation is equipping the four-lane, divided highway with fiber-optic cable and wireless roadside sensors to allow open-road testing of autonomous and connected vehicles.

By Chris Booker, University Communications