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Honda, Ohio Leaders Show Off 'Smart Intersection' In Marysville

Nick Evans
Gov. John Kasich and Honda engineer Sue Bai watch cars interact at a "smart intersection" in Marysville.

On the corner of Fifth and Main in downtown Marysville on Thursday, officials from Honda, government types and curious shop workers hoisted cell phones to see a new smart intersection project in action. Every few minutes, a Honda SUV heads toward the intersection and stops short—the driver warned of a pedestrian, emergency vehicle or red light runner.

There are four cameras perched above the intersection's traffic lights, and as pedestrians or vehicles approach, those cameras pick up the movement and send warnings to oncoming drivers. Those messages can only go to connected vehicles, but Honda officials believe because the system’s cameras captures everything, it can make a meaningful impact on safety.

Under a small tent, Sue Bai, Honda’s principal engineer for the project, points to an array of screens. As people walk across the stree,  a box appears around them, with numbers indicating direction and speed. 

“Then for example, there’s a police vehicle coming with a red box,” Bai says. “That vehicle doesn’t have connected vehicle technology. Then we recognize and then send messages for that vehicle, that’s identified as an emergency vehicle.”

Standing next to Gov. John Kasich, Bai describes a test where one car runs a red light.

“He has the right of way,” Bai says, pointing down the street, “but you know, once in a while, then some crazy guy—” she breaks off as the cars starts moving.

Credit Nick Evans / WOSU
A "smart intersection" in Marysville uses sensors to register feedback about autonomous vehicles.

“It comes,” Bai says, pointing to the red light runner, “and then this car is coming, assuming that he has the green, but no, has to stop."

"Now isn’t—now that is great, did you see that?” Kasich yells as spectators start clapping.

"And so what happens?” Kasich says later. “Well, the pedestrian is safer, the person driving the car doesn't have that kind of terrible accident or whatever could happen there, and so it's everybody wins."

Honda officials note 20 percent of accidents happen at intersections, and their system extends drivers’ awareness to places they cannot see. What’s more, Kasich believes the technology could open doors to new jobs installing and servicing the systems.

"Somebody has to make these cameras, I assume these cameras have to be repaired on a regular basis, somebody has to develop the way in which the cameras, or this box in here interprets the data, I mean someone has to make the sensors in the cars," Kasich says.

In May, Kasich signed an executive order opening all public roads in Ohio to driverless vehicle testing.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.