Central Florida Roundup
Hands off: FDOT partners with Florida universities on driverless cars
State transportation officials are planning for a future of connected and driverless cars.
For several months, researchers from Embry-Riddle University have been driving a tricked-out Ford Escape around Florida. The vehicle — they call it “Plan B” — is outfitted with a ream of sophisticated sensors and an array of autonomous-driving technology.
The researchers steer the car manually, but the data they’re collecting is the first step by the Florida Department of Transportation toward a future in which it hopes to use driverless vehicles to perform tasks such as inspecting roads and runways, mowing rights of way and medians and painting lane markers.
“We’re trying to hit a wide variety of environments — rural roads, downtown in the cities, rain, fog. We’ve even tested in some higher RF (radio frequency) environments like the Daytona Speedway,” says Patrick Currier, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering working on Plan B.
Agency leaders see autonomousvehicle technology as a way to improve safety and ease congestion, and to lower FDOT’s own road-maintenance costs.
The Embry-Riddle project is one of at least half a dozen that FDOT is conducting with Florida universities to prepare for a future of driverless and connected cars (those equipped with vehicle-tovehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications equipment).
Researchers at Florida State University, for instance, are exploring how autonomous vehicles could improve para-transit and shuttle services for the elderly. A team at Florida Atlantic University is studying how the agency might use unmanned boats to inspect bridges.
The prep work, which FDOT is doing through a broader program dubbed “Florida Automated Vehicles” initiative, extends beyond academic research to private-sector contracts. Last year, the agency gave a three-year “automated vehicle support” contract to HNTB, an engineering consulting firm.
The department has also worked with Netherlands-based supplier MobilEye to install collisionavoidance technology on about 50 vehicles in the Tampa area, including FDOT-owned sedans and light trucks, as well as buses.
Easing ER Congestion
Osceola County, where 25% of residents lack health insurance, has started a program designed to reduce the number of visits to hospital emergency rooms by providing better primary care upfront. Paramedics have begun identifying frequent 911 callers and ER users. With the patients’ permission, they provide their names to Kimberly Knight, the county’s health program educator and coordinator of a new program called “Phone 2 Home.” Knight reaches out to those people in hopes of connecting them with community agencies and health providers. The program, which started about six months ago, has helped about 70 people so far.
The International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing hired Chester Kennedy as CEO. Kennedy, a former vice president and engineer with Lockheed Martin, will run the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, under construction in Osceola County.
Orlando Philharmonic Executive Director David Schillhammer will step down this month. He had led the orchestra for 15 years.
CASSELBERRY — Non-profit community health provider True Health, which offers services to low-income, uninsured and under-insured consumers, opened its ninth facility in central Florida with a True Health Express walk-in health center.
DAYTONA BEACH — Greensboro, N. C.-based Tanger Factory Outlet Centers spent nearly $10 million to buy 39 acres at I-95 and LPGA Boulevard from Consolidated-Tomoka Land for an outlet mall.
DELTONA — Sanford-based Central Florida Regional, a subsidiary of HCA Holdings, will build a freestanding emergency center.
EUSTIS — Coconut Grovebased Housing Trust Group began construction of a $21-million, 144-unit affordable housing project. The project is expected to be completed in 13 months.
KISSIMMEE — The International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research received $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy for a joint research project with Argonne National Laboratories.
LAKE MARY — Paylocity, a provider of cloud-based payroll and other human resources services, will add 176 workers to the 1,550 it now employs. The company will receive incentives in exchange for the expansion.
MELBOURNE — The U.S. Army awarded Harris Corp. a five-year contract worth up to $800 million to provide warfare products and services to the Army Research Lab.
ORANGE COUNTY — Ignoring objections from nearby Universal Orlando, county commissioners unanimously approved plans for a 600-foottall skyscraper and roller coaster called Skyplex. > Bethesda, Md.-based CWCapital Asset Management bought a pair of suburban Orlando apartment communities with a total of 676 units for $71 million.
ORLANDO — A research team at the University of Central Florida was awarded two of Microsoft first HoloLens units for a project exploring the augmented-reality device’s capabilities to share family memories across generations. UCF was one of 10 schools awarded the devices, and the only one in Florida. > The Florida Citrus Bowl was one of a dozen U.S. venues chosen to host games for the 2016 Copa American Centenario, an international soccer tournament featuring national teams from across the Americas to be held this summer.
POINCIANA — HCA-owned Poinciana Medical Center completed a $26-million expansion that added third- and fourth-floors and more than doubled the number of private beds from 30 to 76.
PORT CANAVERAL — The Brevard Zoo has proposed building an aquarium on a 10-acre site at the cruise port that boosters think could draw as many as 600,000 visitors a year.
SEMINOLE COUNTY — Residents must begin securing garbage, suspending bird feeders in the air, picking ripe fruit from trees, cleaning barbecues and bringing pet food dishes inside under a new ordinance meant to reduce encounters with black bears. Violators could face fines of as much as $100 per day.
SUMTERVILLE — SECO Energy, a 77-year-old, notfor- profit utility with about 200,000 customers in central Florida, was ranked the best midsize utility in the South for consumer satisfaction by J. D. Power.