Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research on Jan. 26, 2017. Credit: Lantern File Photo

A new line of low-speed, self-driving shuttle buses will begin operating in Columbus starting in December as part of citywide efforts to improve transportation.

DriveOhio’s new shuttles will operate along the Scioto Mile, allowing passengers to travel to the Smart Columbus Experience Center, COSI, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, and Bicentennial Park.

The project comes from the combined work of DriveOhio, a new initiative within the Ohio Department of Transportation; Smart Columbus, an initiative focused on improving economic growth and quality of life through technological advancements; and Ohio State University.

The shuttles are part of DriveOhio’s plans “to make Ohio ‘smart transportation’ ready to go,” ODOT press secretary Matt Bruning said.

DriveOhio was established in January by Gov. John Kasich and supported by ODOT as a new center to bring together researchers and manufacturers behind smart mobility initiatives like the shuttles and a “smart highway” project along part of Route 33. By fostering cooperation between public and private entities, DriveOhio seeks to attract new investments and jobs for the state.  

“We want people to manufacture their vehicles here, to manufacture their tools here,” Bruning said.  “We want people to invest in infrastructure here and in smart mobility.”

Engineers at Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research, or CAR, have played a key role in making this project possible. Maryn Weimer, senior associate director of CAR, said DriveOhio goes to CAR for research purposes to make sure safety and efficiency goals are met.

Weimer said while this is the first major project CAR and DriveOhio have collaborated on, but that CAR already had a dedication to smart mobility and vehicle autonomy in its recent projects.

This has included the designing of new driverless vehicles as well as testing their ability to operate outside the lab. In tandem, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has established Autonomy in Vehicles, a new course for undergraduate seniors and graduate students that focuses on the design and implementation of autonomous and connected vehicles.

Weimer, also an Ohio State representative for DriveOhio, said CAR’s engineers “have been working with DriveOhio on testing the vehicles’ safety” before they begin accepting passengers.

This far-reaching goal of modernization is reflected by Smart Columbus which has a stated goal on its website to “develop and deploy smart mobility projects that improve access to jobs, expand logistics capabilities, connect residents to safe and reliable transportation, give visitors accessible transportation options and support a sustainable transportation system.”

In 2016, Smart Columbus was established by Mayor Andrew Ginther after the city was awarded $40 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation for winning its first Smart City Challenge — a competition among midsize cities to develop ideas for an integrated smart transportation system. As with DriveOhio, Smart Columbus is working to establish a modernized electric grid, a new network of electric vehicle chargers, Smart Mobility Hubs and parental trip assistance.   

The shuttles will begin accepting passengers in December and are expected to continue their operations throughout 2019.