OTTO self-driving truck on the highway

Self-Driving Vehicles Helping To Move Ohio's Economy

Ohio has its foot on the gas accelerating an effort to grow its self-driving vehicle industry. After success last fallThe Ohio Turnpike and OTTO are planning more tests this spring and summer for self-driving tractor trailers across Ohio's northern corridor.

The toll road, I-80, connects Youngstown, Cleveland and Toledo, and serves as a busy path between the east coast and Chicago. Workers are installing sensors along the Ohio Turnpike and upgrading an existing 241 miles of fiber optic cable.

U.S. 33 from Dublin to East Liberty in Central Ohio is another smart corridor. Fiber optics should be installed along that route by the end of 2017. In addition, Ohio has designated money in the budget for two other smart corridors. They are I-90 in Lake County and I-270 in Franklin County.

Helping accomplish this is a $40 million federal grant for new transportation technology.

In some places drivers may see two autonomous trucks back-to-back. The state may partner with Peloton which specializes in commercial vehicle platooning. This is where a second truck mirrors what a first self-driving truck is doing.

Randy Cole, the executive director of the Ohio Turnpike, is busy marketing what Ohio is doing. He met March 8 and 9, 2017 with Uber in Pittsburgh. Uber is using self-driving cars to pick up passengers there. As this video shows there is a driver on board just in case.

Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Press Secretary Matt Bruning says the state is willing to work with anyone. "That's really our goal, to make Ohio the epicenter of this industry and we think we're well on the way of doing that."

Bruning explains that Ohio has a lot to offer. It has snow and ice, heat and rain, and "can go from an urban setting in Columbus to a suburban setting in Dublin to a rural setting in Union County and even a small community in Marysville."

ODOT is currently retrofitting some of its vehicles with sensors. In the short-term, black ice and pothole detection information would be automatically communicated to a dispatcher. In the long-term, those vehicles could drive themselves. The Ohio Turnpike is also equipping 40 maintenance vehicles with the equipment.

The Turnpike's Cole has been a passenger in a self-driving truck and says he felt safe. He noticed the truck automatically self corrected to stay in the middle of the lane.

ODOT, the Ohio Turnpike, and the Ohio Department of Public Safety are partnering with the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, Ohio and Ohio State University. The research center is working with car manufacturers.

All are making sure the technology is safe, insured and meets Ohio's legal requirements, according to Cole. "All of our lawyers have been looking at the existing rules and the laws and everyone is comfortable that the testing can happen safely today, legally, as long as there is a driver in the seat even if they are testing the self-driving mode."

Cole sees plenty of positives. He says self-driving technology could put $100 million more U.S. drivers on the road who cannot drive because they are elderly or disabled. He also says roads would be safer because 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error.

Originally published by WVXU 97.1.