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Real world testing

Ever watch a commercial for a vehicle with lots of semi-autonomous features (cameras and lasers to detect lane lines, automatic braking … that kind of thing), and think to yourself, “Well, that’s great in a city, but how would those cars work out here?”

It seems as though any system designed to work well on the straight and well-painted streets of an urban setting would just about short circuit on the roads in East Ohio or the Northern Panhandle. It is encouraging to know vehicle researchers recognize that challenge, and are coming to the Athens area to begin work on it.

Ohio State University, the Transportation Research Center and the Ohio Department of Transportation are working together with the help of a $7.5 million federal grant to research current technology and the equipment needed for truly self-driving cars to operate safely on roads like ours.

Most of us can think of a road or two that will give them trouble, but that is a good thing. Consumers of (or passengers in) cars using semi-autonomous or self-driving technology in the future will be grateful it was tested in a place like rural Ohio.

“Rural roadways vary more than urban roads, and we want to see how that affects the overall systems,” said Josh Every, director of advanced mobility for the TRC. Those variations include winding, narrow roads — sometimes with faded lines, and subject to weather, traction and visibility changes that can present a challenge to plenty of human drivers.

It is also encouraging to know the researchers understand rural roads will present another problem. “In the long run, we’ll look at connectivity (how vehicles talk to one another and access data) …” Every said.

Again, any East Ohio driver could tell them, challenging roads and limited data/communication access go hand in hand.

We wonder when a research team will be sent into the even more challenging mountains of West Virginia. Still, rural Ohio is a good start at designing automated cars for the real world.

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