Brett Roubinek, CEO of the Transportation Research Center, the mysterious vehicle proving grounds and innovation center in East Liberty, is leading it into the dawn of autonomous technology.


There is a hidden gem on 4,500 acres of land in East Liberty, just 50 miles from Downtown. It’s been part of Central Ohio since 1974. It has been the site of research done by NASA and an episode of Top Gear America. It pumps out data and innovations that have revolutionized vehicle safety and influenced government standards. Since 2017, Brett Roubinek has been at the wheel, overseeing its steps into a new frontier that is the smart and connected vehicle industry.

The nonprofit Transportation Research Center is the second-largest vehicle proving ground in the U.S. It has been in existence since 1962, when Ohio State University’s College of Engineering established it. It was funded by a state of Ohio highway bond issue approved by voters in 1968. In 1972, the Ohio legislature created TRC of Ohio and established the Transportation Research Board to oversee it and hire employees. In 1987, TRC’s property was offered as part of an economic benefit to attract Honda of America Manufacturing to build a plant in Ohio. It remained affiliated with Ohio State and entered into a management agreement with Honda to continue to operate as an independent test site.

Though an expansive proving ground, TRC is more than just a place to test a vehicle to make sure it’s road-ready. It has the only government lab on a proving ground and comes equipped with its own engineers to assist customers and do analysis. Some of its engineers and scientists are globally recognized as the top two or three in their area of expertise. TRC reports to Ohio State University’s College of Engineering, and Dean Dave Williams is its chairman. From the late 1980s until now, about $62 million in transportation-related endowments has been collected from TRC. It quietly does its work 24 hours a day for over 800 customers and 10 resident customers. Quiet because the work is often top secret—for example, many of its customers put patterned skins over the vehicles being tested there to keep them mysteries to others. At any given time, 90 to 100 vehicles are running, 25 percent of those by test drivers, who can drive upwards of 4 million miles per year.

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