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Technology Newsmaker Q&A Mark-Tami Hotta

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 07:00
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The Transportation Research Center (TRC) in East Liberty, Ohio is a large (4,500 acres) automotive testing facility and proving grounds. It includes road courses, wooded trails, a 7.5-mile high-speed oval test track and a 50-acre vehicle dynamics area.

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In January, the State of Ohio and Ohio State University announced they would fund a $45 million Phase 1 expansion of TRC’s 450-acre Smart Mobility Advanced Research and Test (SMART) Center for automated and autonomous vehicle testing.

Mark-Tami Hotta, CEO of TRC, spoke to Aftermarket Business World about the expansion.

Q: What types of autonomous vehicle and testing research has been going on at TRC prior to this new funding?

A: For over 20 years now NHTSA has been doing preliminary research on autonomous and semi-autonomous systems. We have a high-speed oval track, a big flat dynamics area, straightaways and handling courses all designed before these technologies were developed. We can test autonomous vehicles, but it’s not as efficient because of the other testing on non-autonomous vehicles being done in those areas.

For autonomous systems one of the most complex things is an intersection. For our proving grounds, we try to design as many intersections as possible because they are hazardous. We’ve hijacked those for our autonomous driving work, but it shuts down access.

Q: What will the new expansion include?

A: We’ll be able to do more autonomous work at the same time, and do more extreme testing in a safer way. We will have 540 acres inside the facility dedicated to this center, and it will be the largest independent smart center in the the world contained within a facility where other types of testing can be done.

One part will be a massive intersection. It’s a big cross, and the long arm of the cross is one-mile long. It will be six lanes by six lanes, and we can configure it in a number of different ways.

The second piece is a network of urban roads. We’ll have an area that’s about six-times the size of Mcity in Michigan [a 30-acre autonomous vehicle testing facility run by the University of Michigan] with roundabouts, cul-de-sacs and city blocks.

The third part will include rural roads and wooded roads with sensors and signals, and there will be components there that tend to obstruct connectivity.

There will also be a vehicle dynamics area, which is like a giant parking lot that is 3,000 feet by 600 feet. It’s 10 football fields long and 50 lanes wide. We can configure funky lane changes or people cutting each other of without the risk of the test object running off the road.

There will be a wet portion of that to simulate low-grip situations. There will also be a SMART Center building with a control center, offices and conference rooms.

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Q: What can you tell us about Phase 2 and Phase 3?

A: Those phases aren’t yet funded.

Phase 2 will be a stand-alone building with an indoor track. It will be an indoor winter testing facility. That’s a pretty big undertaking and it will be the first of its kind in the world. It’s a climate simulator. We’ll be able to create extreme snow and ice or freezing rain conditions, but without relying on the weather to cooperate.

Phase 3 will be a highway loop that circles around the Phase 1 elements. It will be a six-lane highway in either direction with ramps, overpasses, etc. We have an oval track already, but it’s designed more like a race track and all the work we want to do on highway testing has to be constrained to the lower lanes.

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