The path to autonomous

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Today’s driver assistance systems will eventually guide the trucking industry to autonomous driving – but it won’t happen soon.

That’s according to Fred Andersky, director, customer solutions controls with Bendix, who spoke by video conference at the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Summit April 18. In fact, Andersky said his company is very purposely taking a slow approach to fully autonomous driving.

Fred Andersky is Bendix's new director of government affairs.
Fred Andersky

However, he also noted the driver assistance systems in place today will be the foundation upon which autonomous driving will be built.

“System fusion will get us to the future,” Andersky said. “Adaptive cruise control requires the braking system to work with the engine management system – the cruise control – to enable that feature. As we move forward, there is going to be more integration of these different systems.”

While fundamentally, autonomous vehicles must simply be able to start, stop and steer, there are much more complex requirements to consider. They must also be able to interact with the cloud for software updates, recognize objects, make decisions, and map routes. Andersky described the “five Is” behind autonomy: information coming to the vehicle, intelligence that can decide when and how to act, intervention when an action is required, insight that allows analysis of a situation – all built on a foundation of integrity.

“Meaning there’s a lot of work that needs to go into making sure these systems are going to do what they say they’re going to do, and when they’re going to do it,” he said.

Much testing must still be done before autonomous vehicles are rolled out. Andersky noted Bendix tested electronic stability control through eight or nine winters before it was commercialized. But as driver assistance technologies continue to be developed on the path to autonomy, Andersky said truck safety will improve.

One of the challenges standing in the way of commercializing autonomous vehicles, is public acceptance. Andersky said two thirds of Americans feel they’d be unsafe sharing the road with autonomous freight trucks. Sixty-one per cent felt autonomous trucks would not reduce traffic deaths. They also showed support for policies such as dedicated lanes for autonomous trucks.

“As much as we’re excited about where the technology is going, the public is not so much,” Andersky acknowledged.

But confusion remains about what autonomous vehicles entail, and even the definition ‘autonomous’ is often misunderstood. Andersky pointed out there are five levels of autonomy, and only the fifth level is truly driverless. Levels zero through four require some level of driver involvement.

“Levels one to four are really what I’d call automated applications – they still have a human involved,” he said. “True autonomous gets to where you don’t need to have someone behind the wheel.”

One critical safety issue that has yet to be resolved, is how autonomous trucks will interact with smaller vehicles. A passenger car typically stops within 140 feet and a loaded Class 8 truck needs about 250 feet at 60 mph. This means sensors need the resolution and range to provide more warning when a truck must stop.

Security is another concern.

“There is no system that is not hackable,” said Andersky, noting a hack attack on a large population of commercial vehicles could cripple the economy.

Yet another concern is that the public’s expectations may exceed the capability of some autonomous driving systems and vehicles.

“If expectation is greater than specification, the result is altercation,” Andersky said. “If people think the system will do more than it can do, then the result is typically going to be an issue and that issue typically ends up being a crash.”

When fully autonomous trucks do become a reality, they may look nothing like today’s tractors.

“When we get to driverless, I imagine there would be a complete redesign in terms of what a tractor-trailer combination is,” he said, noting self-driving trailers are even a possibility.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • Oh boy, I remember reading about how in the fifties everyone thought that people would be using flying cars in 30 years.

  • I agree with Mr. Andersky about this subject it will be a very long period of time before this non -sense of driverless automated truck on highways. My best guess it all goes with what the government are doing with the planet getting warmer and a way to get rid of a lot of subsidies to company just to show the future will look like this.
    Have a look at Uber driverless car that killed a person on a bicycle!!!
    they think that with a big driverless truck it will be safer; Dream on.

  • Hi Mr. Menzies,
    I have been studying these Autonomous Vehicles for about a year now. I’m a trucker by trade, and run an organization called Canadian Skilled Truckers Alliance. And what I have found is we over here in North America are falling way behind that of Europe.
    At this time Ontario is setting up for a 10 years Autonomous Pilot Program, that will have very specific trucking company’s who will follow a very strict set of protocols to become involved. These companies must be, ELD compliant, V2V Communications plus they must have Disc-Brakes. The rest is just normal safety stuff like the driver must be able to take over in a moments notice. They are required to enter a scale if it is Open of Inspection. And the most noticeable, is when the convoy, sorry, Platoon must be separated they must be 47 meters apart or 147 feet apart at 100 KPH. All companies must have a 5 Million dollar Public Liability program in place. They will not run LCV’s or and A or B trains. They will also only run in good weather and limited to 400 series highways across Ontario outside city limits, And this will include Highway 11 as part of the program. Plus these Platoons will have a Pilot car with them at all times and each truck MUST run with a Big Yellow warning sign saying they are in a Platoon.
    Do you know in Europe they are running Platoon as close a 16 Meters, in the test modes in test areas and have gone onto highways with the same distances. If you look at Platooning here in North America on YouTube, they will be as new as a few months. In Europe, the news is like 2 years old. So you can imagine how far we are behind them. I love tech, but I seriously don’t think we will Level 5 trucks running Windsor to Montreal any time soon. Ontario’s Autonomy Program is a 10 Year Test, and then they will sit on it for another number of years to see what happened, an where they could improve, and then possibly do it again. I don’t think Mr. Andersky, has much to worry about as yet.
    Stephen D James