Tampa Connected Vehicle Deployment Connects with Community Colleges

Hillsborough Community College, a 2-year college of 28,000 students near Tampa, FL, will be providing a key service for the deployment of connected vehicles in Tampa, while training students for the future of connected and automated vehicle deployment.

Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA), one of three participants in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Connected Vehicle (CV) Pilot, will implement multiple connected vehicle applications in the Tampa Central Business District (CBD) to improve safety, mobility, and environmental impact of vehicle traffic.  The project involves installing Onboard Units (OBUs) consisting of radios and computers in over 1600 vehicles (including private cars, buses, and streetcars) and Roadside Units (RSUs) in over 40 fixed locations at downtown intersections to enable ultra-fast vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication. 

Installing OBUs in over 1600 privately and publicly-owned vehicles is a big job, requiring automotive expertise and experience with many different makes and models of vehicles.  Installation includes placing the OBU itself in the vehicle’s trunk, replacing the rear-view mirror with a mirror that has the additional ability to display warnings, attaching two radio antennas and a Global Positioning System (GPS) antenna on the vehicle roof, connecting all these components with each other and with the car’s speaker for audible warnings., and test-driving the vehicle to check the installed components.  The installations should be done in a professional setting with certified vehicle mechanics to prevent unintentional modifications or damage to participants’ vehicles.

Bob Frey, THEA Planning Director and CV Pilot Program Manager, initiated discussion with nearby Hillsborough Community College (HCC) about the possibility of using their Master Mechanic Program facility and staff to install the OBUs.  The resulting program will use staff Instructors and paid intern students trained and coordinated with THEA’s OBU vendor to perform installations in multiple, professional auto bays.  It is a win/win situation, with benefits to the CV program, the Tampa Bay community and the THEA CV Pilot:

    • Master Mechanic students must complete a 6-month paid internship to graduate from the associate degree program – this meets their requirement.
    • These graduates will be joining dealerships where future connected and automated vehicles will be serviced, bringing their CV awareness and new skillsets to the Tampa Bay workforce.
    • Master Mechanic input to installation process reduces risk to Pilot.
    • Use of paid student interns reduces labor cost.

Another outcome of this arrangement is that Steve Johnson, the Program Management Leader for THEA’s lead contractor HNTB, was a featured speaker at USDOT’s Professional Capacity Building (PCB) education summit in Washington, DC on September 20/21, 2017.  This summit is a bi-annual meeting of the CITE Universities and Community Colleges, ITS America and FHWA entities. They review emerging technologies in transportation and the requisite skillsets accompanying them that may not yet have adequate training opportunities available.

Mr. Johnson presented an overview of the pilot, and described how the CV program and the HCC students will benefit from the synergy.  The HCC Program Director also attended, and participated in the open roundtables – the first year for HCC participation.  This professional training connection has provided an additional demonstration that the CV Pilot program is confidently facilitating the deployment of connected vehicles in the near future.