Crashes are this autonomous truck’s specialty

Colorado DOT's Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle mirrors the movements of a manned vehicle in front of it, moving autonomously and providing a safety barrier for road crews.

Colorado DOT's Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle mirrors the movements of a manned vehicle in front of it, moving autonomously and providing a safety barrier for road crews.

Colorado DOT unveils self-driving “crash truck” to protect roadside workers

Road crews have traditionally used a “crash truck” to protect workers. It is a vehicle that drives slowly or sits stationary behind roadside maintenance workers and its sole purpose is to absorb impacts so workers remain safe. It’s often the first – and last – line of defense for construction workers.

Those vehicles, though, must be manned by a person, leaving someone in harm’s way. That is, until now. In one of the first real-world, on-road applications of self-driving technology, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is introducing a self-driving crash truck. CDOT showed off its Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle (AIPV) last week.

“Just in the last four years, there have been 26 incidents where a member of the traveling public struck a CDOT impact protection vehicle — that’s almost seven per year,” said Shailen Bhatt, CDOT executive director. “This is a dangerously high number when you consider that in some instances, a CDOT employee is sitting in the driver’s seat of the vehicle that was hit. By using self-driving technology, we’re able to take the driver out of harm’s way while still effectively shielding roadside workers.”

CDOT and a host of partners showcased the AIPV in action without a driver behind the wheel during a live roadway striping operation in Fort Collins, CO. As part of its RoadX program, CDOT and partners at Colas UKRoyal Truck & Equipment and Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, used military technology for the vehicle.

The department says there were 21,898 crashes and 171 fatalities in work zones from 2000 through 2014. The Federal Highway Administration says there was a work zone crash every 5.4 minutes with 70 crash-related injuries each day in 2015 and 12 fatalities every week.

According to CDOT, the AIPV is designed to mimic the position, speed and direction of a lead vehicle that transmits a signal to the trailing driverless vehicle, ensuring the AIPV is always correctly positioned between roadway workers and live traffic.

“Today’s demonstration proves that technology can take transportation safety to a new level and forever improve the way we work,” Bhatt said.

Colorado has been testing the vehicle’s emergency stopping and obstacle detection systems as well as the truck’s ability to stay in its lane and make turns.

Colas is a private company that provides civil engineering, maintenance and construction services in the United Kingdom. It is testing this same technology for use in work zones, and is sharing test methods and lessons learned with CDOT.

“We are dedicated to advancing health and safety issues and will continue to invest in cutting-edge research and development projects to benefit our employees, clients and the wider industry,” said Lee Rushbrooke, Colas CEO. “We are extremely excited about this new technology and are looking forward to giving this a global reach to save lives of road workers across the world.”

Royal Truck & Equipment built the AIPV using the latest technology, including the industry’s largest variable message board mounted to the truck, CDOT explains, while Kratos Defense designed the hardware and software needed to provide the driverless capability to the AIPV.

“The partnership opportunity between Colas Ltd and Colorado DOT that Royal Truck & Equipment has been given to launch this new autonomous technology is unparalleled,” said Rob Roy, president of Royal Truck & Equipment. “We know autonomous impact protection vehicle will change the safety standards in this industry, and these passionate partners will help advance the cause.”

The inclusion of Kratos brings the expertise and technological development that the U.S. military has been utilizing.

“The primary objective of the Kratos Defense Unmanned Systems Division has always been to develop advanced robotic and autonomous systems utilized to ensure the safety of the Warfighter by eliminating the need for them to perform dull, dirty, and often dangerous tasks,” said Maynard Factor of Kratos Defense and Security Solutions. “Partnering with Royal Truck & Equipment, CDOT and Colas to leverage the technology we originally developed for the U.S. Military to now serve the road construction industry and enhance safety in the work zone is a great achievement and we are proud to be a part of the team.”

As more companies work to develop autonomous trucks, the first real test may be taking place on Colorado roadways.