The world knows Ohio as home of the Wright brothers and the first man to step on the moon. But locals also know it as home to aviatrix Jerrie Mock, the first woman to fly around the world solo. She began the 23,000 journey at Columbus’ airport, recently named for John Glenn, another Ohioan famous for blasting through barriers to human travel.

The Buckeye State opens a new chapter in transportation history this week when driverless trucks will power up and down a 30-plus mile stretch of divided highway that connects Columbus’ northwestern suburbs with the Transportation Research Center, a national facility that does independent automotive testing.  A set of separate tests will be run this week or next on the Ohio Turnpike. As announced by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a string of sensors, a fiber-optic cable network and other investments all will be part of plans to become a center for autonomous vehicle research.

It is a highly appreciated appearance for the governor, as practically his first act in office was to kill high-speed train plans due to the state’s budget instability.

In addition to Kasich’s support of this new technology, a meeting organized in mid-November by state Reps. Cheryl Grossman, R-Grove City, and Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, drew interested parties from manufacturers, auto companies, universities, chambers of commerce, transportation network companies and many other fields. Columbus earned a $40 million “smart cities” grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that will underwrite part of its campaign to become a national center for autonomous-vehicle research on actual streets and highways, in addition to another $10 million grant from Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. to transition to an electrified, low-emissions transportation system.

In fact, Ohio has several advantages for advanced transportation research, including the state government’s network of partnerships with tech companies and universities, its history with auto and auto parts manufacturing and its four distinct seasons of weather, which are needed to test how vehicles respond to suboptimal conditions.

This is evidence we in the Midwest are making good progress on transportation freedom – also seen in recent legislative, regulatory and (most recently, in Chicago and Milwaukee) legal decisions to liberalize the rules around transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. Advances in commercial transportation have the potential to save thousands of lives by avoiding crashes; it’s helpful to have a robot driver who never fails a drug test.  When the research produces the necessary reliability, Ohio may play a significant role in the process.

Image by Chesky

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