Turnpike Enterprise execs and Florida officials dedicate Suntrax site in Auburndale

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475-acre testing facility
An artist’s illustration of the 475-acre testing facility that seeks to develop a self-driving car for urban drivers (Florida Department of Transportation)

Florida state and local officials joined Turnpike Enterprise executives on Nov. 13 for the $42 million SunTrax, a 475-acre autonomous vehicle testing facility in Auburndale.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said that with the project, Polk County will become the “testbed for the next generation of technology.”

“Imagine a world where the question is not to allow driverless vehicles on the road, but at what point to ban drivers,” said Putnam.

Construction on the vehicle testing site’s 2.25-mile oval track is slated for completion by spring of 2019. The infield that includes most of the technology used for autonomous testing at Suntrax will be finished a year later, according to Paul Satchfield, program management administrator at SunTrax.

Satchfield also told Transport Topics that he is expecting businesses to construct offices, hotels and gas stations near the new facility.

In an agreement with the state, Florida Polytechnic University students will gain access to the testing ground infield designed for autonomous vehicles. The university will be in charge of wireless communication and sensor testing.

Suntrax is also designed to test the following: toll technology, equipment, software, smart phone-based payments, lane markings, signage, and movable barrier systems. A part of the facility will also feature a replica of a busy Denver intersection. The replica will serve as a venue for testing conducted by FPU students.

Overall, Suntrax aims to have an autonomous or self-driving vehicle that could navigate through urban areas with pedestrians, traffic lights and stop signs. The facility, which is a project of the Florida Department of Transportation, is designed by Saint Petersburg-based firm Vibe Engineering.

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