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Pa. teams up with Ohio, Michigan in autonomous vehicle ‘Smart Belt’ coalition

Pennsylvania transportation officials are teaming up with their counterparts and academics in two Midwestern states to collaborate on the advancement of autonomous vehicle technology.

The “Smart Belt Coalition” pairs Keystone State agencies with groups from Ohio and Michigan.

“I’m excited for us to continue our efforts in fostering safe and effective development of this technology,” said Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Leslie S. Richards, who has been an advocate of putting PennDOT and the state at the forefront of autonomous vehicle research and testing.

“This multi-state partnership not only offers fantastic collaboration opportunities, but will also bring some consistency to testing scenarios that will help the private sector as they develop these technologies,” Richards added.

The partnership initially will link PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission with the following agencies:

• Pennsylvania: Carnegie Mellon University, which has been a leader in developing autonomous vehicles, including one demonstrated in Harrisburg last fall.

• Michigan: Michigan Department of Transportation and University of Michigan.

• Ohio: Ohio Department of Transportation, Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission, The Ohio State University and Transportation Research Center.

What and why

Why these three states?

Officials said their similar climates, commercial truck traffic and active work on the technologies offer much common ground and opportunities for cooperation. The coalition will support research, testing, policy, funding pursuits and deployment, as well as sharing data and providing opportunities for private-sector testers.

In Ohio, for example, Gov. John Kasich recently announced his state was investing $15 million in self-driving truck experiment along a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Route 33 in central Ohio.

And in Michigan, advancements include legislation signed last month allowing autonomous cars on public roads, without a front-seat driver, as well as permitting automakers to operate networks of self-driving taxis.

For the new coalition a strategic plan is under development that will focus on:

• Connected and automated applications in work zones, including uniform work-zone scenarios offering consistency for testers as well as technologies offering better information to motorists.

• Commercial freight opportunities in testing, including platooning (connecting multiple vehicles) and potential coordination on interstates.

• Incident management applications providing better information to and infrastructure for emergency responders and other agencies.

“This new coalition recognizes that automated and connected vehicle initiatives transcend state boundaries and spur emerging technologies,” Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Mark Compton said.

Roger DuPuis
Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at [email protected].