The vision of autonomous transport is set to move a step closer to reality this week as trials begin on a congested stretch of highway in the USA.
Autonomous truck firm, Otto, which is an offshoot of taxi app company Uber, will begin operating on a 35-mile stretch of Route 33 in central Ohio, between the cities of Dublin and East Liberty, home to the Transportation Research Center, an independent testing facility.
The truck will travel in normal traffic, and a driver will be in the cab to intervene should anything go awry, said US Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Bruning, after Ohio state officials announced details of new investments to support innovative transportation technology.
Officials say that the section of Route 33 – a four-lane, divided road – is an important location to carry out autonomous vehicle research in the state and will become a corridor where new technologies can be safely tested in real-life traffic. Ohio State Governor John Kasich has already committed to installing a fibre-optic cable network and sensor systems into the highway next year, to further feedback from autonomous transport research.
“We think [this is] going to be one of the foremost automotive research corridors in the world,” said Bruning.
In addition, the truck is expected to travel on part of the Ohio Turnpike, a 241-mile stretch of interstate toll-road. The turnpike’s executive director said in August that officials were moving toward allowing testing autonomous vehicles on the route.
Governor Kasich has pushed for Ohio to be a leader in the fast-advancing testing and research of autonomous vehicles. State officials say Ohio is well-positioned for such a role for many reasons, including a significant presence from the automotive industry in the state, partnerships with university researchers, and seasonal weather changes that enable testing a variety of driving conditions in one place.