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FMCSA looking to gain traction on autonomous trucking

Fleet manager survey part of Virginia Tech-led project involving Schneider National, and Peloton

Schneider National part of project assessing automated truck technology. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Federal regulators are seeking Trump administration approval for a survey of private trucking companies that could help the government establish safety rules affecting autonomous trucks.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will be seeking public comment starting Tuesday on the survey questionnaire, “Trucking Fleet Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for Managing Mixed Fleets,” that it anticipates will generate responses from 2,000 companies, including commercial fleets managers, researchers and truck drivers.

The questionnaire, designed by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), is designed to collect opinions of automated driving systems (ADS) before and after “hands-on demonstrations” with ADS technologies.

“Although (ADS)-equipped trucks hold the promise of increased safety, productivity and efficiency, it is not clear how these vehicles should be integrated into fleet operations with conventional trucks,” VTTI asserted in its survey proposal to the Federal Highway Administration in March last year.

“Reflecting this issue is a question frequently asked by trucking executives: How can I integrate ADS into my fleet operations? This CONOPS will provide the trucking industry with clear guidelines on how to safely implement, and benefit from, ADS-equipped trucks. Meanwhile, data from the real-world demonstrations of the CONOPS will provide the U.S. Department of Transportation with critical data to inform rulemaking regarding ADS-equipped trucks.”

Once approved by OMB, VTTI plans to gather survey data through four “road shows” that will take place at existing trucking conferences around the country, including the Technology Maintenance Council (TMC) Annual Meeting, North American Commercial Vehicle Show, SAE COMVEC and Automated Vehicle Symposium.

According to FMCSA, the road shows will provide opportunities to participate in hands-on technology demonstrations, such as in-vehicle demonstrations and closed-course scenarios.

“Lessons learned from this demonstration will influence all three phases of the research to ensure the CONOPS developed is true to real-life fleet operations,” FMCSA stated. “Thus, the purpose of the hands-on demonstrations: (1) expose truck fleet managers and other personnel, truck drivers, government officials, insurance and inspection personnel and the general public to ADS; (2) collect valuable qualitative data on participants’ opinions and perceptions regarding ADS; and (3) use the data to ensure the CONOPS covers major industry concerns.”

The survey is part of a $7.5 million grant project awarded to VTTI by FHWA last year to develop an automated trucking fleet that will help set industry guidelines for autonomous vehicle technology.

VTTI is part of a team of 17 organizations participating in a four-year CONOPS project. Partners include trucking fleets Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR) and Hub Group (NASDAQ: HUBG), ADS technology developers, Starsky Robotics, and Peloton, and six state DOTs.

Tasks within the overall project will include testing automated truck queuing at a U.S. port, an intermodal drayage yard-to-exit operation, a long-haul exit-to-exit operation and a cross-country level 4 and level 5 automated driving demonstration from San Francisco to New York across Interstate 80, according to VTTI’s proposal.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.