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ATA pushing for autonomous adoption one step at a time

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Automation and the ATA’s role

In step with ATA president Chris Spears’ remarks Monday at TMC 18 in Atlanta, education chairman Jack Werner led a session on Automated Driving and Platooning. One of the themes running across various technology presentations is: Do not be afraid.

The ATA recognizes that “technology is cool,” but also that it had better play its own vital role in adopting and adapting plans in a realistic manner. Otherwise, it could have consequences for the industry, especially in the acquisition of young talent. For now, the industry’s focus related to automation is “driver-assist” over “driverless.”

Policy and progress

One thing that helps the progress of technology adoption is consistency. You get that through clear governmental regulation policy. Currently, the ATA seeks policy adoptions for the following topic areas: safety, flow of Interstate Commerce, Federal preemption and state’s rights, uniform state laws, freedom of choice versus mandates, infrastructure and connectivity, public education and maintainability.

Specifically, right now this is through the Self-Drive Act and AV Start Act. The Self-Drive Act has been passed in the House of Representatives. It expands the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) exemption authority, provides federal preemption protection, and requires safety assessment letters. It does not, however, include commercial vehicles.

The AV START Act has passed out of the Commerce Committee, and is awaiting action in full Senate. It expands NHTSA exemption authority. As Spears said in his remarks, the 2.0 version of the bill did not include trucks and this concerned many in the industry. The 3.0 version will include commercial vehicles. The act has run into some recent issues, as 27 representatives from various public interest groups have urged a retooling of the act.

The U.S. DOT is also actively working with the NHTSA and FMCSA to anticipate regulatory barriers and reviewing autonomous testing procedures. Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is seeking input on infrastructure needs. The U.S. DOT plans for release of an AV 3.0 guidance document later this year.

The five levels of autonomous for dummies

There are five levels of automation. First, there is Level 0 (this one doesn’t count since the driver is fully in charge, hence the number 0). Level 1 is “feet off” OR “hands off.” Level 2 is hands off AND feet off, but eyes “on.” Level 3 is hands off, feet off, eyes off, brain “on.” Level 4 is hands off, feet off, eyes off, brain off (in a constrained road environment). Finally, there is Level 5 which is hands off, feet off, eyes off, brain off (in an unconstrained environment). No one expects to see Level 5 any time soon—some say possibly never.

Automated Level 1 and 2 platooning is the next real step

Platooning still requires professional truck drivers, not simply engineers. It requires teamwork between drivers. The way it works begins with the platoon draw-in. The drivers must then negotiate coordinated lane changes, braking, and the platoon dissolve. In the U.S., ARPA-E NEXTCAR project is working on platooning as one of five technology areas to be explored.

Different countries are currently implementing varying levels of automation onto their highways, or at least have plans underway to push the adoption and assimilation. Meanwhile, platooning is a real thing with technology that currently works from multiple manufacturers.

Around the world, Germany is adopting Level 2 platooning automation on its highways this year. The UK three-truck Level 2 platoons projected for this year, although they are seen as still needing a lot of work to get there. Sweden projects 4 platooning at Level 1 and 2 by 2019. Japan is looking at Level 1-4 platooning by 2020. Currently, they are all in pilot testing and there is nothing commercially underway just yet.

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Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.