Overdrive Extra

Max Heine

Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a robot convoy

| April 11, 2013

Pig Pen, Rubber Duck and Sodbuster were hardly passive drivers as they gabbed on their CBs and responded to traffic conditions in C.W. McCall’s classic trucking song, “Convoy.” Passive drivers, though, are one element of the semi-autonomous convoys being tested around the world.

Strong fuel savings were achieved in testing this semi-autonomous convoy in Japan.
Strong fuel savings were achieved in testing this semi-autonomous convoy in Japan.

Steven Ashley, writing for the BBC, gives a good update on recent testing of self-driving heavy-duty trucks, particularly a test of four trucks on an oval track in Tsukuba, Japan. The lead truck had an active driver, but the following “drones” had ones who remained passive until there was a need to get out of the platoon. The project’s target is having trucks spaced 13 feet apart, traveling at 50 mph.

There have been similar tests, too, in Germany, the United States and Sweden. A recently completed project led by Volvo used cars and trucks together. I wrote last fall about testing of autonomous trucks and cars.

To make the truck platoons work, Ashley writes, testers use “a suite of technologies including an automated steering system, automatic vehicle-following system and cooperative adaptive cruise control.”

Among the benefits sought is reduced congestion, as well reducing accidents by lowering the potential for driver failure. The Japan test showed a fuel economy improvement of 15 percent or more due to the aerodynamics of drafting.

There are still safety hurdles to overcome, such as lane changing and whether a four-truck length of road spray would be too much for motorists on a rainy day.

But the fact that these tests keep getting done shows that progress is being made. Experts believe the safety concerns and other hurdles can be overcome.

What do you think – will this idea ever be safe enough to work? Would it really save money?

  • Done Driving

    Will these robots be subjected to the HOS or the chicken house?

  • gary d

    why not just hook 5 trailers together to one truck? or is that to obvious of an answer.

  • Mike64

    Big Ben? No, It’s “Pig Pen”. A classic song you just butchered.

  • Shine

    My thoughts exactly!!

  • Alex

    How about parking? What if there is a blowout on the second/third truck in the convoy, do all four trucks wait for roadside assistance? What about a random inspection at a scale house for a robot driven truck?

  • Tx_Ghost

    I could see it working in a Bounding Overlap type Changing Leads every couple of hours(if they following driver are on duty Not Driving in the Drivers seat). Mostly west of I -35 on east west runs on relatively Flat areas along 10, 20, 40, 80, 90 and maybe Topeka to Aurora on 70 Maybe event the 5 and/ or 15 in California. There are stretches where it could work. However it is Highly doubtful Safely and legally it will ever Happen. Just turn the robot off when in Metropolitan Areas, sort of like an Auto Pilot(Driver), Like Between outer Houston to on then off entering San Antonio. Leaving San Antonio Back On until El Paso hit the weigh Station in NM turn it Back on leaving Las Cruces as Long as Officers recognize the In Drivers Seat as being On Duty Not Driving in a Following Truck. But Think I Would Prefer 20-40ft between trucks to Be On Safety Side.

  • Tx_Ghost

    Think of it Like a Smart Cruise control.

  • CJofCJS

    Um,no I think you better listen again “Ah, breaker, Big Ben, this here’s the Duck. And, you wanna back off them hogs? Yeah, 10-4, ’bout five mile or so. Ten, roger. Them hogs is gettin’ in-tense up here. “

  • john rouse

    Alright we are going to let robots drive now,so when i lose my job again do ya think they’ll keep the economy up.lol,I really think this industry is turning ino a silly ass joke.whats next i wonder.

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  • M.j. Zuzich

    I’ve wondered for a long time why it wouldn’t be doable to have a second automated rig traveling behind one driven conventionally. The automated rig would merely have to receive its’ telemetry from the lead truck driven by a driver. The lead truck would be set up to receive performance and other pertinent data from the automated trailing unit which would allow for notice of mechanical or tire related issues.

  • MercenaryMan

    I think its a myth and never will work, all it will take is one autonomous vehicle to commit a Accident caused by another vehicle and the lawyers will own a trucking company, they already sue them for everything under the sun, Lawyers will muck this up like they do everything…some teenager will dive down in between one of these vehicles, activating its emergency collision avoidance it will swerve clearing the highway of mom and pop and anyone else, or stop faster then any other vehicle and get rear ended….Its fantasy. It might work on long straight roads or long stretches of Interstate with no large citys, but Ill bet its a pipe dream…

  • Kimberly Powers

    the thought of this is bothersome to me. I can not believe we would think about putting robots on the highway in commercial vehicles. For one it puts our friends and families out of jobs and second the safety factor. In my opinion the only reason we have accidents now with our fellow truckers is because employers push them beyond the legal limits and they fear losing their jobs if they say no. If we would back the legal mumbo jumbo off of our truckers and support them more and get more qualified drivers and employers would follow the laws then we wouldn’t have issues. I read three articles this morning alone talking about drivers being fired for refusing to break the law. FIRED! for doing their job according to the law. And this new hours of service is a joke too.

  • Kendall Oakleaf

    why do the trucks need mirrors if nobody is driving them. What a joke I hope they kill millions on the highway