Columbus’ smart city win may lead to autonomous trucks

The Department of Transportation declared Columbus, Ohio the winner of the Smart Cities Challenge earlier this year. Now, city leaders plan to spend some of the $50 million reward on an autonomous “truck platoon” capable of driving in urban areas.

Columbus Region Logistics Council backed the project, which will test the autonomous trucks at Ohio State University before bringing them onto public roads, before moving to Alum Creek Drive.

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It is one of a number of public-private partnerships that Columbus is embarking on as part of the Smart City challenge.

City leaders will work with the private sector to build a smartphone app connected to the trucks, which lets them commandeer the vehicle and provide the most efficient route. At the start, a driver will be stationed inside the truck, and the vehicles can only drive on certain roads.

Columbus sees multiple routes

From there, Columbus hopes to build fully driverless trucks that are able to drive on multiple routes without trouble. That could reduce the cost for the logistics industry, while also improving productivity, since self-driving systems don’t need to sleep.

It is one of the first public-private autonomous partnerships, in San Francisco and Michigan almost all self-driving tests are conducted by automotive or tech firms spending their own income.

Most of the talk on self-driving fails to mention the trucking industry, but manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, its parent Daimler, and startup Otto are already building fully driverless big rigs that may hit the market before consumer vehicles.

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