Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Iowa City area named a ‘proving ground’ for autonomous vehicle testing

A years-long effort in eastern Iowa to attract more autonomous vehicle research has received a federal boost.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has named the Iowa City area, represented by the Iowa City Area Development Group, as one of 10 “automated vehicle proving grounds.”

The designation adds more “legitimacy” to the region when it comes to autonomous vehicle research, said Tom Banta, ICAD’s director of strategic growth.

“You’d love to see the Waymos … the GMs, the Fords, the Ubers. We’d love to attract those types of organizations to the area,” Banta said. “We’re not certain whether or not we’ll be successful in that endeavor. I think those are realistic targets for us now that we’ve at least been given this designation.”

While only 10 areas were selected, the U.S. DOT said it received more than 60 applications seeking proving ground designation.

Banta acknowledged that the Iowa City area will still have to compete to attract automotive companies and others researching the technology.

He said Iowa has an advantage, though, because it can offer a variety of environments for testing. Those include different types of roadways like highways and gravel roads, larger cities and university towns, and a variety of weather conditions.

National Advanced Driving Simulator Director Dan McGehee said the designation gives the government a way to “apply a filter” and mark areas that are suitable for autonomous vehicle testing.

“What the auto industry, computer companies and what the government has seen over the last couple of years is cities, counties and states raising their hands and jumping up and down boldly to say ‘hey, we’re open for business,’ not really fully recognizing the complexities of what it takes to do testing on their roads,” McGehee said.

Both Banta and McGehee said they had either recently contacted or been contacted by potential partner organizations.

The designation also joins ongoing efforts around Eastern Iowa to research autonomous vehicle technology.

For example, the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa is conducting its own safety research. It has also built a simulated city, called Springfield, to help test autonomous technology in a virtual setting.

Iowa’s Department of Transportation is also working with mapping company HERE to produce high-definition maps of Interstate 380 between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. A later stage of the project may map roadways between Des Moines and Ames.

Anthony Foxx, the now former U.S. Transportation Secretary, said the 10 proving grounds will “collectively form a Community of Practice” to test and deploy automated vehicle technology.

“This group will openly share best practices for the safe conduct of testing and operations as they are developed, enabling the participants and the general public to learn at a faster rate and accelerating the pace of safe deployment,” Foxx said in a statement.

There is no funding tied to the designation.

The other nine designations were given to:

  • City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute
  • Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership
  • S. Army Aberdeen Test Center (Maryland)
  • American Center for Mobility at Willow Run (Michigan)
  • Contra Costa Transportation Authority & GoMentum Station (California)
  • San Diego Association of Governments
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners
  • North Carolina Turnpike Authority

The DOT’s announcement came the night before President Donald Trump’s inauguration. McGehee said he is not concerned the transition will stop progress on the effort.

Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at

Iowa City area named a 'proving ground' for autonomous vehicle testing | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
This Pop-up Is Included in the Theme
Best Choice for Creatives
Purchase Now