Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) Transportation Institute received a $7.5 million federal grant to develop an automated trucking fleet to help set industry guidelines for autonomous vehicle technology that could eventually lead to driverless trucks.
Virginia Tech’s grant, along with seven others, were part of a $60 million package awarded on Sept. 18 by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to be used for projects to test the integration of automated driving systems (ADS) on U.S. roads.
“The Department is awarding $60 million in grant funding to test the safe integration of automated vehicles into America’s transportation system while ensuring that legitimate concerns about safety, security, and privacy are addressed,” said DOT Secretary Elaine Chao at the Federal Highway Administration Research Showcase in announcing the grants.
Virginia Tech will be part of a team of 17 organizations participating in a four-year project. Partners include two trucking fleets (Schneider National and Hub Group), three ADS technology developers (Pronto.ai, Starsky Robotics, and Peloton), and six state DOTs.
“It’s kind of a revolutionary project, and we feel we are tackling a lot of issues that will impact the eventual deployment of automated truck systems,” Martin Walker, principal investigator for the project, told FreightWaves.
“We plan to have several demos with a leading technology developer showing how autonomous trucks can be smoothly integrated into the existing trucking ecosystem, as opposed to trying to completely disrupt or reinvent trucking. We will also show how truck drivers could benefit from this.”
Walker said that the project will include the testing of several areas for the eventual deployment of autonomous trucks, once federal regulations are in place. One of those areas is in port operations, where wait times for drayage trucks can be hours long. Autonomous technology would allow a driver to put the vehicle into an ‘automatic mode” that would allow the truck to closely follow the vehicle in front of it, and the driver can then log time in the sleeper berth, he said.
The project plans also include a demonstration of automated “depot to depot” runs. “Most major carriers have already economized their distances with regard to hours-of-service regulations, so a lot of drivers are driving five hours out and five hours back,” Martin said.
He added that the project team has not yet settled on where testing demonstrations will be located, but the technology to be deployed is “geography neutral and can operate across the country and not just in certain, very constrained and non-representative segments where all automated truck testing has taken place thus far.”
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute was awarded another $7.5 million to develop and demonstrate “key dynamic scenarios and their potential solutions for safe interaction” of automated vehicles along a road corridor in Northern Virginia.
Other states receiving project grants were Texas, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California.