A $30 million expansion project will add dozens of jobs and enable the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to test the latest generation of crash avoidance technologies at its Ruckersville campus.
Joe Nolan, the institute’s chief administrative officer and vice president for vehicle research, said the expansion has two main elements — a new, larger outdoor test track and a covered track that will enable testing to go on rain or shine.
The indoor facility is critical because “we don’t always have clear weather in Virginia,” Nolan said. “That’ll be an area where we’ll be able to work in a more controlled environment." When completed, Nolan said he believes the indoor testing facility will be the only one of its kind in the world.
In addition, the project will add office space. Overall, the expansion to the home of "crash-test dummy" is estimated to cost $30 million.
The IIHS board of directors approved the expansion in September and the plans were made public earlier this month.
IIHS has retained local firm Perrone Robotics to provide robotic test equipment for the expanded facilities.
“We’ll have crashable cars, and crashable pedestrians and bikes under full robotic automated control,” Paul Perrone said. “It’s not remote control,” he added. “The robots will be given routes to follow and actual parameters and will emulate the behavior of those things on their own.”
Using the robots, Perrone explained, allows each test to be based on the same parameters and repeated with accuracy. And everything can be set up, coordinated, programmed and controlled wirelessly through laptops or tablet computers.
“They really are breaking new ground with this and utilizing this leading-edge technology for positioning and control, and it’s really great to be a part of it,” Perrone said.
About 10 positions will be added at the facility and about 30 people from the institute’s Northern Virginia headquarters are expected to relocate to Ruckersville. About 30 people currently work at the facility.
Tony Williams, Greene County’s director of economic development, said new jobs are always a plus and described IIHS as one of the county’s biggest assets.
On a typical workday, Williams said more than 5,000 of Greene’s approximately 20,000 residents leave the county to work elsewhere. The expansion, he said, will help stem that loss.
“They’ve been an excellent corporate neighbor for years, and they’re basically an international leader in their field and the fact that they are making this commitment to Greene County is wonderful,” said Jim Frydl, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.