By Stephen Goin, Fox News
In the race to implement autonomous vehicles, Ohio’s rural roadways have become the latest testing ground.
In March, the state’s smart mobility initiative, DriveOhio, deployed autonomous vehicles on active roadways in southeastern Ohio for the first time. The Rural Automated Driving Systems (ADS) project specifically focuses on how automated vehicles operate in rural areas as they navigate curving, and hilly terrain.
DriveOhio Executive Director Preeti Choudary told Fox Business the state’s automated vehicle testing is designed to help Ohio understand how to improve vehicle safety and efficiency in rural communities.
“A lot of the testing to date has been in urban communities, we want to make sure that technology is being tested on rural roadways, so we can experience the challenges and come up with solutions,” Choudhary said. “This critical work will provide valuable information to help advance the safe integration of automated vehicle technologies in Ohio and across the nation.”
A 2022 study from the Bureau of Transportation statistics finds that rural areas are disproportionately affected by traffic fatalities. While only 19% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, 43% of all roadway fatalities occur on rural roads.
Choudhary said DriveOhio hopes to change those outcomes through the automated vehicle deployments underway.
The state is testing passenger vans equipped with AutonomouStuff technology − two Ford transit vans and a Chrysler Pacifica − on the divided highways and rural two-lane roads. This phase of the project focuses on the state’s 32 Appalachian counties as the most comprehensive testing effort yet to be conducted on rural roads in the United States. When the automated driving system is engaged, the technology will control steering, acceleration, and braking.
However, throughout the testing period, Choduhary said there will always be a driver behind the wheel.
“Many vehicles on the road today already have some degree of automated driving system technologies like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, or emergency braking. Those systems are meant to enhance safety, but they certainly don’t replace the human driver,” Choudary said.
A second deployment of vehicles will include two 53-foot semi-trucks connected by technology that automates a process called “platooning,” allowing the trucks to travel closely together at highway speeds.
When the trucks are connected, the lead vehicle controls the speed, and the following vehicle will have precisely matched braking and acceleration to respond to the lead vehicle’s movement. The trucks used in the project are also equipped with radar to detect other vehicles; technology that allows the trucks to monitor and react to the environment in real time. These vehicles will also have drivers behind the wheel at all times.
Ohio’s Lt. Governor John Husted, who heads InnovateOhio, told FoxBusiness the state’s automated vehicle testing builds on already implemented innovations.
“Lane technology, braking technology, all of those are forms of automotive driving systems already out there. We will just gradually continue to evolve that and improve that,” Husted said. “If you can implement a technology that people trust, overtime you can create highway safety which is the goal, these technologies will help make human beings more efficient.”
According to DriveOhio, the state will conduct the automated truck for an entire year before a private company, Ease Logistics, implements the technology in day-to-day operations. At the end of the testing period, Ohio will share the data collected from its project with federal transportation officials.
“Data is a huge piece of this project, we’ll be collecting a tremendous amount of data to try and link how these vehicles perform with what they’re seeing on the road. Ohio University will be involved in packaging that up, and we’ll report it to the federal motor carrier association, and they’ll disseminate that widely throughout the industry,” Choudhary said.