Illinois to develop testing program for self-driving vehicles

Illinois is currently working with the University to test track autonomous vehicles in efforts to put self-driving vehicle technology in action.

Along with Northwestern University, both the Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campus of the University system will participate in the testing of the current autonomous vehicles in Rantoul. The government also plans to connect other Illinois communities that may want to see testing brought to their town with appropriate companies, universities and research institutions.

Geir Dullerud, affiliate professor of engineering and director of the University’s Center for Autonomy, said the track’s advisory board visited National Taiwan University to gather information about the track’s technology.

“The test track in Rantoul is about 200 acres long,” Dullerud said. “We’re focusing on cars but we’re also looking at semi-trucks that can travel at 70 mph.”

An executive order was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner Thursday called the Autonomous Illinois Initiative. The order states the criteria for testing the technology as well as the regulations on sharing information to others.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, a driver must remain behind the wheel at all times in case of an error. Although researchers attest autonomous vehicles remove the possibility of driver error responsible for the majority of car wrecks, one of the main concerns with self-driving vehicles is that bored and distracted drivers in these vehicles may be less responsive to emergencies.

Dullerud said the two-year project is based in Rantoul because there used to be a large airport space in the city. The test track utilizes the old runways, he said.

Testing of autonomous cars are already taking place in California, Arizona and Pennsylvania, but these testing sites haven’t completely avoided accidents. In Arizona last spring, a pedestrian was killed by a self-driving car that was part of a project by Uber Industries, leading to the company halting its operation.

“One of the emphasis of the facility is to have large-scale trucks go on I-57,” he said. “This project can be a very unique facility not only in Illinois but nationally.”

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