While some people tout self driving trucks as the answer to the truck driver shortage, the reality is that the technology is not quite ready for prime time. Testing of self driving trucks is underway, however in a number of places. Before the end of this decade, driverless trucks may be on the road.
Players include startups, major manufacturers
Major players in the testing phase include Daimler, Otto and Tesla, but Freightliner and other major truck manufacturers are planning or testing driverless, autonomous or semi-autonomous trucks. In addition, the US Army is working cooperatively with Otto to test semi autonomous army vehicles in convoys.
US Army tested self driving trucks
In June, the US Army tested a four-truck convoy of driverless trucks on I-69 in Michigan, under actual traffic conditions. The trucks traveled a 40-mile course over several days and had human backup drivers aboard, just in case. The system, developed by the US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, used LIDAR to monitor road conditions. The convoy used shortwave radio for vehicle-to-vehicle communication. It used lane closure information from the Michigan Department of Transportation. (MDOT installed special infrastructure to “chat” with the trucks on their test drive.) The trucks traveled in a platoon formation, so each truck performed the same maneuvers at the same time.
Self driving trucks would service combat zones
The Army hopes to perfect and deploy the system within 10 to 15 years. The goal is to eliminate risk to soldiers in combat zones, and to perform routine deliveries. Further development will allow the trucks to make split-second decisions and to analyze and address unexpected events.
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Columbus will host self driving trucks
Peloton Technology, a private firm from Mountainview, CA, will be testing its own platooning technology in Columbus, OH. The test will take place near Rickenbacker International Airport. Before that happens however, Ohio State University’s Transportation Research Center will test the trucks on its own 7-mile closed track.
Columbus requires human drivers
Unlike the Army’s four-truck platoon, Peloton Technology will be testing two-truck platoons. The City of Columbus will require that each truck have its own human driver inside the cab, and the human driver must steer the truck. According to Peloton Technology, their system is less like autonomous driving and more like an advanced cruise control.
Otto Technologies aims for long haul self driving trucks
Self driving startup Otto Technologies is testing its self driving trucks at the Concord Naval Station in Concord, CA. Their trucks are actually autonomous and feature equipped cameras, GPS, lasers, radar and other sensors to help make sense of road conditions. According to the company, the system is not yet tuned to manage adverse weather conditions, and is ultimately designed to complete long-haul trips. The designers don’t envision the system being used in heavily congested urban areas anytime soon.
The Otto system relies on drivers to pilot the vehicles to the freeways. Once the autonomous truck hits the entrance ramp, computer controls take over and can pilot the vehicle to any off-ramp in the country.
Tesla Motors eyes urban self driving trucks
Tesla Motors is taking a different approach. Rather than avoiding urban driving, the company is concentrating on self driving technologies that navigate the urban landscape. The company envisions driverless trucks and buses, and hopes to have something on the road in 2017.
Tesla also wants self driving buses
In addition, Tesla is working toward on-demand mass transportation. This approach would use smaller buses that follow ad hoc routes. Tesla also says that it would operate buses privately in cities as an alternate mass transit option.
Photo Credit: US Army TARDEC