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.
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.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies