Self-Driving Truck Startup Locomation Demonstrates its Truck Platooning Technology for State Regulators
Although self-driving cars and long-haul trucks are being developed by automakers and new tech companies, regulations are still not in place over their deployment on public roads. For developers of autonomous long-haul trucks that are aiming to deploy autonomous vehicles for the shipping industry this is a big obstacle.
However, before companies can deploy their automated trucks, they need to be able to demonstrate the safety of their autonomous driving technology before local, state and federal regulators will allow them to operate on public roads.
Pittsburgh-based self-driving truck startup Locomation is being proactive and is providing midwest state regulators a real-world demonstration of its automated truck platooning technology under a new pilot program.
The company announced the successful completion of an on-road pilot program intended to showcase autonomous trucking technology for the SmartBelt Coalition (SBC), which is a tri-state collaboration between transportation agencies and educational institutions in the states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The region of the U.S. is a busy area for freight delivery.
The SBC was founded in 2016 to foster collaboration among multiple agencies and research affiliates from Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania on testing, policy, standards development, deployments, outreach, and funding pursuits in the areas of connected and automated vehicle technology to make the region's roads safer.
Locomation responded to an SBC Request for Information (RFI) for the demonstration of "Truck Automation and Platooning" technology. The RFI was seeking potential partners who are interested in deploying truck automation and platooning pilots through the three states on roadways operated by the five transportation agencies.
"Autonomous technology will not move ahead without the full support of government regulators and we are proud to take part in demonstrating our platform and in helping to inform public policy decisions," said Dr. Çetin Meriçli, co-founder and CEO of Locomation.
Dr. Mericli added, "The SmartBelt Coalition is a prime example of the importance of collaboration across states, agencies and institutions to set the stage for the deployment of real world autonomous trucking. Our participation is further validation that we're on the most direct path to driving real world solutions for autonomous trucking."
Over the course of one week, two Locomation trucks performed three separate interstate routes under observation from representatives from the organizations involved. The self-driving trucks successfully completed several routes through each of the three states, including one route starting at Pittsburgh's Community Food Bank delivering food donations to Toledo, OH.
Locomation was founded in 2018 by veterans of Carnegie Mellon's renowned National Robotics Engineering Center. The company's goal is to deliver full vehicle automation by first incorporating technology that assists a human driver that operates the lead truck, instead of removing the drivers.
Unlike an independently operated self-driving vehicle, Locomation's trucks are designed to operate in what the company calls an "Autonomous Relay Convoy" (ARC). It involves a driver piloting a lead truck equipped with technology that assists them, while a follower truck operates in tandem using Locomation's fully autonomous driving system.
The technology is referred to as "truck platooning" where two or three trucks are linked together using Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) technology. Currently Locomation's robust autonomous driving technology keeps two trucks in sync.
Locomation claims to be the world's first trucking technology platform to combine AI-powered autonomy with driver augmentation, which assists the driver in the lead truck.
How Truck Platooning Works
Once two of Locomation's trucks merge onto the highway with drivers onboard each, the trucks link together using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology, thus forming a convoy.
The V2V communication combined with robust sensing allows the follower truck to react almost instantly to the lead truck's activity. When two or more trucks are connected in this way, the follower truck can safely follow in close proximity.
When ARC is active, only the lead driver is actively engaged and driving. The follower truck is controlled by the ARC system and its driver is "off duty." The follower truck is fully driverless (SAE Level 4), according to Locomation.
At set intervals, the trucks swap places. The second driver now assumes control of the convoy and the driver that's now in the follower truck can disengage and go off duty.
The lead truck can generate driving actions without actually putting them into action. These actions are recorded and can be compared to the driver's actions to produce valuable data for testing higher levels of autonomy.
The result is improved safety, significant labor cost savings, and a reduction in fuel consumption, according to Locomation.
"Human-guided convoys are a natural steppingstone to fully autonomous trucks, and will teach us much more and much faster [about autonomy] than we could do otherwise," Dr. Meriçli, told FreightWaves earlier this summer.
Last month, Locomation received the world's first autonomous trucking technology purchase order from Wilson Logistics, a transportation logistics company based in Springfield, Missouri.
Under the terms of the agreement, at least 1,120 Wilson Logistics tractors will be equipped with Locomation's Autonomous Relay Convoy (ARC) technology. The first trucks will be delivered in early 2022.
There are other companies working on self-driving trucks, but it will likely be years before an autonomous truck will be traveling on a highway without a human onboard. Locomation's truck platooning technology however is a viable solution in the interim to make freight delivery more efficient and much safer, as well as to address a industry-wide shortage of drivers.
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