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Increased Efforts to Test AVs on Rural Roads

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has awarded Ohio a $7.5 million grant to study the use of autonomous vehicles on rural roads. [1]

Although an estimated 97% of US roads are rural, AV testing has largely been confined to urban areas. In spite of a smaller percentage of the population living in rural areas, more than half of fatal crashes occur on rural roads. 

The four-year project will focus on running AVs on roads in 32 counties, including on unpaved roads, in all seasons, day or night and in challenging conditions like work zones. The aim is to help AV developers and stakeholders better understand the specific challenges connected to rural AV deployment.

Ohio has been successful in positioning the state as an AV testing site and living lab. Through the DriveOhio Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Program, both large and small cities have signed up to be hosts of different testing sites. Just recently the state opened a $45 million testing facility in East Liberty, as the nation's largest contained testing site for connected and autonomous vehicle technologies. 

 

Personal comments

The reason for many developers initially aiming at cities has a lot to do with the very tempting business model of AV ride-hailing services for urban users (robotaxis). It can also be easier and more convenient to test in selected parts of a city instead of at more remote rural locations.

In will be interesting to see what unique challenges that are to be found in the rural context, and if current solutions are transferable in a good way. In Sweden, rural use-cases have also been highlighted as important and in need of more focus on the continuous development of AVs [2].

 

Written by Victor Malmsten Lundgren, RISE Viktoria.

 

Sources

1. 2019-09-12. Ohio's $17M project to test AVs on rural roads

2. 2019-06-19. Trafikverket: Färdplan för ett uppkopplat och automatiserat vägtransportsystem