Cities and regions across Texas are partnering with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Transportation Research (CTR), and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to form the Texas Automated Vehicle (AV) Proving Ground Partnership. The statewide partnership will put Texas on the path to becoming the nation’s first “Smart State,” which aims to create a platform for innovation to address community challenges.
“There is no place better than Texas, with its favorable business climate and geographic diversity, to establish this new partnership among the state’s largest transportation research entities,” says Greg Winfree, TTI agency director. “The closed-course facilities and real-world urban and rural test sites we can offer, including land- and sea-port applications, and unmanned aircraft systems, provide a variety of environments where automated vehicle challenges can be tested and proven.”
The partnership builds upon the momentum of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Smart City Challenge, in which Austin was a finalist, and is a direct outcome of the Texas Mobility Summit held December 1–2, 2016. The summit, hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Texas Technology Task Force, brought together nine teams representing 10 cities and three research institutions to galvanize key leadership in developing innovative solutions to the state’s mobility challenges. The teams are committed to continuing the collaboration, beginning with leveraging their collective resources, expertise and opportunities to advance AV technology.
“One of the challenges as we look forward into the future is that we are oftentimes looking through the lens of today and how the world operates today. We know there is going to be change, we just don’t know what that change is going to be and how that is going to impact us,” TxDOT Executive Director James Bass said during his remarks at the Texas Mobility Summit. “By having a broader group with different voices, we are able to see those things sooner than we would if we were just talking to ourselves.”
The realization of AVs is re-imagining personal and commercial mobility, and AVs have the potential to achieve significant safety, operational and economic benefits for all communities.
“In the next five years there are going to be more advancements in vehicle technology than there have been in the last 50 years,” said Mayor Jeff Williams of Arlington. “Think about the opportunity to have an automated people mover, lithium battery powered. It could run all day, charge through the night, use clean-energy, and be cheaper…It’s a new day of what the opportunities are because transformation is coming now.”
Members of the Texas Partnership are contributing their facilities, expertise and talents as part of a larger Texas network of proving grounds and test-bed sites. Proving grounds offer controlled environments on research campuses where the complete life-cycle development of AVs can be assessed and include the Texas A&M University System RELLIS Campus, which includes Texas A&M’s Proving Grounds, University of Texas at Austin Campus, and the SwRI Campus in San Antonio. Urban and freight test beds in the following cities offer real-world environments where a variety of scenarios may be explored:
- Austin Area — Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Riverside Drive corridor.
- Houston Area — Texas Medical Center, Houston METRO HOV lanes, and Port of Houston.
- Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington Area — UTA campus, Arlington streets, I-30 corridor and Managed Lanes.
- San Antonio Area — Fredericksburg Road/Medical Drive corridor and bus rapid transit system.
- El Paso Area — Tornillo/Guadalupe Port of Entry.
With five of the nation’s 15 fastest growing cities located in Texas and the state’s population expected to more than double by the year 2050, Texas seeks to manage this disruption proactively rather than allow rapid urbanization to stifle the state’s economy.
“The very first fully driverless vehicle trip took place in Austin last year when an automated Google car took a blind man to the doctor in one of our residential neighborhoods,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. “Austin is now the Kitty Hawk of driverless vehicles because we are a creative and innovative city. We should all be proud that a Texas city is where such a huge leap forward can take place, and I look forward to working together with other Texas cities so we can pioneer creative partnerships with other innovators.”
The Texas AV Proving Ground Partnership is also applying for USDOT designation as a national proving ground. The USDOT anticipates that the selection of the initial AV Proving Grounds will be completed during the first quarter of 2017. Designated facilities will open for testing by January 1, 2018.
Texas A&M Transportation Institute: Dr. Christopher Poe, P.E., Assistant Agency Director, Connected and Automated Vehicle Strategy, [email protected], (972) 994-2206
The University of Texas at Austin Center for Transportation Research: Dr. Chandra Bhat, Director, Center for Transportation Research, The University of Texas at Austin, [email protected], (512) 471-4535
Southwest Research Institute: Michael Brown, Engineer, [email protected]; (210) 522-3104