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Self-driving car test facility to start next construction phase

The SunTrax facility will enter phase two this fall.

A Polk County self-driving car test site is now one step closer to opening in late 2021, state officials said Wednesday.

The SunTrax facility will enter phase two this fall and will be the nation’s first state-owned autonomous vehicle testing site. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) announced the next step alongside Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“In order for Florida to have a modern transportation system that meets the needs of our residents, businesses and visitors, we must embrace emerging technology,” DeSantis said. “Once completed, SunTrax will further strengthen Florida’s position as a national leader in automated vehicle testing and research.”

The facility, a partnership between FDOT and Florida Polytechnic University, will be available for companies to lease to test autonomous vehicle technology. Construction began in 2017.

Completed in May, phase one was a 2.25-mile oval track on 475 acres. Phase two will create shipping containers on the track’s infield to simulate city-like buildings that can be reconfigured.

Alongside the urban simulation will be a roadway geometry track with curves, a pick-up/drop-off simulation area and an augmented reality pad for computer-generated environments.

“As Florida’s population continues to grow, it is essential to expand our transportation system to met current and future needs,” FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault said. “By investing in research, testing and development of autonomous vehicles at SunTrax, Florida will continue to break the mold in multimodal transportation.”

DeSantis and Thibault visited the construction site in January while the Governor announced his plan for the future of Florida’s transportation system. DeSantis returned again this summer to sign a bill (HB 311) into law that allows for the expanded use of self-driving cars in the state.

The law defines “automated driving systems” and “fully autonomous vehicles” and describes the application of driving laws to unmanned vehicles.

It also opens the door for an automated ride-sharing platform and allows the Florida Turnpike Enterprise to “fund, construct and operate test facilities” to study AV technology.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering the Texas House of Representatives for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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