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Are Driverless Shuttles In Cincinnati's Future?

C. Suthorn
Test of driverless shuttle buses at the Frankfurt, Germany Airport in October 2017.

Greater Cincinnati transportation officials want to help drive the future of autonomous and connected vehicles. They are in the early stages of a plan to build a test track and deploy driverless shuttles.

The Smart City Committee, made up of regional government leaders and University of Cincinnati researchers, would use the test track to navigate potential problems.

Committee Chair Zack Huhn says there is no set location for the track. "I really think it will come down to what land is available and how much room they need. You would use the test track as an opportunity to test different variables to create scenarios that you know would be potentially dangerous in the real world to navigate."

Huhn shares his vision in this Ted Talk.

Huhn and the Smart Committee would like to use driverless shuttles to transport people from downtown to uptown and from Cincinnati to the airport.

To make it work, Greater Cincinnati would have to create an intelligent infrastructure using fiber optic cable like what is already in place on Ohio's U.S. 33.

Huhn says there are government grants to pay for it.

Vehicles would also need to undergo modifications, according to UC Assistant Professor Jiaqi Ma who studies connected driverless cars. "They will be equipped with special devices to enable vehicles to talk to each other, talk to pedestrians, talk to infrastructure and talk to the traffic management center."

Ma says the technology is real and it works. In 2019 General Motors says it will release the first car without pedals and a steering wheel.

The connectivity in Cincinnati will be useful for everybody, says Huhn, not just for people in Teslas.

Here's how the infrastructure and cars would communicate:

As your car approaches an intersection the traffic light would talk to your vehicle to say when it will turn red and when it will turn green. This allows the vehicles to pass smoothly through the intersection without a lot of starting and stopping. The infrastructure would also communicate with pedestrians and a traffic management center.

Huhn and Ma know the importance of moving fast.

The Wall Street Journal reports Florida's out in front. Florida Polytechnic University is already building a $100 million test track. Another one is planned at the Kennedy Space Center.

Other countries are working on infrastructure connectivity and driverless cars. The recently released Automated Vehicles Readiness Index shows the Netherlands leading the pack, followed by Singapore and then the U.S.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.