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U.S. mayors explore Ohio State automotive research

Students and faculty put spotlight on autonomous and electric vehicles

Dozens of mayors from across the United States recently had the opportunity to interact with research projects from The Ohio State University that could one day improve their communities.

Students and faculty from the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) were front and center at COSI Sunday evening as part of the agenda for the 91st annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, hosted by Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther.

Students work on the Buckeye Current at COSIThe conference is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with a population of 30,000 or larger. Nearly 200 mayors from 38 states registered to attend.

“We got to engage with people from all over the country. I know we talked to leaders from Seattle, Washington, to New Orleans and from New Jersey and New York,” said David Cooke, senior associate director of CAR. “We really had the whole range of the country. Basically, everybody walking to the event stopped by and talked about what we were doing in advance mobility research.”

The CAR display featured several automotive research platforms, including EcoCAR, the centerpiece of the student competition to make an advanced hybrid electric vehicle; Formula SAE, a small-scale, open-wheel race car that recently won 3rd place in North America out of 120 teams; and Buckeye Current, an electric motorcycle built for a student competition team aiming to break a world record at 200 mph for an EV bike.

Laura Friedmann, a graduate research fellow at CAR, is part of the Buckeye Current team.

“Quite a few mayors asked us if we were interested in doing further battery research after we graduate. Because batteries, getting the range that you want, and doing thermal management are all really critical,” she said. “So they were very excited to see that young people here at Ohio State are interested in working on the problems that are affecting them, and the electric vehicle world.”

The research areas the CAR team discussed included innovation and safety for autonomous and connected vehicles, low-carbon energy solutions and workforce development for the evolving mobility industry.

Cooke said many of the questions he answered were focused on the NEXTCAR project. The U.S. Department of Energy-funded project is built on a hybrid minivan to help test maximizing fuel efficiency and autonomous vehicle research.

City leaders want to know how future vehicles will connect with traffic signals, road signs and other smart infrastructure projects.

“We got a lot of questions about the connected automated vehicle space. And, of course, everybody wants to engage with the students and see the next generation of folks working on these challenges,” he said.

A student jazz quartet from the School of Music performed at the opening event at the Columbus Museum of Art.Friedmann said it was a great opportunity for herself and her peers to discuss their research projects with city leaders.

“It makes you feel good about the work, and it makes me really happy I’m here and that I’m in the right place at Ohio State,” she said. “This is where the research is being done. This truly is at the forefront of what everyone is doing, because we’re talking about new ideas every single day.”

Cooke said the interaction between students and mayors was invaluable. They recognize they are leaders who may turn to the students for expertise or advice one day as professionals.

“We love these types of things for our students because it really makes you a more rounded student,” Cooke said, “when you get the chance not just to be good in the classroom, and to do really important research, but to get out there and learn how to talk about it and show people and interact.” 

The university’s investment in creative expression was also on display at the conference. A student jazz quartet from the School of Music performed at the opening event at the Columbus Museum of Art. The musicians captivated the city leaders for an hour as they arrived at the museum.

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