Automation listening session draws few voices

The FMCSA three-phase plan for introducing best practices for autonomous technology to the industry.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) says it’s listening to the trucking industry when it comes to developing rules for assisted driving technology, but one of the first sessions designed to do that very thing generated few insights.

The FMCSA held one of several public listening sessions to focus on Automated Driving Systems (ADS) for commercial vehicles as part of the Automated Vehicles Symposium in California this week.

Although the session was originally scheduled to be three hours long, light attendance in the room and viewing a live stream, combined with a lack of audience interaction, reduced the session to just two hours.

More listening sessions are planned for the coming months and follow a comment period on the topic that ended May 10. They are part of Phase 1 of the administration’s plan to gain information and identify best practices for manufacturers and fleets building, testing, and using advanced assisted and automated driving technologies.

Although the comment period is officially closed, the group is encouraging those involved in automation and autonomous technology to continue sending in remarks.

Administrator Raymond Martinez said the sessions are designed for the kind of input that will help drive the next two phases of the project.

“We’re here to learn from you. We want to leverage your knowledge and your expertise so we are asking the right questions,” he said.

Phase 2 was described as identifying what works – which will involve continued research so the administration can determine how to safely develop, test, and deploy autonomous technology.

Michael Cammisa, vice-president – safety policy, connectivity and technology for the American Trucking Associations, said trucking should learn from the mining industry and its use of fully autonomous vehicles.

He also asked how the FMCSA intended to spend the US $100 million allocated by Congress for autonomous vehicle research and development. No answer was offered.

Manager of public policy at Amazon, Allison Cullin, said a multimodal approach needs to be taken when developing best practices, so shippers and suppliers understand what to expect across the whole supply chain, and that should include working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as it develops best practices on drones.

“We just want to make sure we’re operating all on the same network even if they’re different modes.”

Other questions focused on the potential for completely driverless vehicles, and ranged from what to do about load securement or hazardous loads if no human is onboard a truck, to cybersecurity, and possible changes to insurance costs and regulations.

Officials didn’t have answers for any of these questions, saying they were looking for more input from experts in the field to help them navigate the new territory.

Changes to hours of service regulations could even be possible if trucks are able to operate without drivers in certain areas or over certain distances. One option could be to allow drivers sleeper berth time while the truck continues to move under Level 4 or 5 automation.

Practical use of that level of technology may be a way off, says Eric Silver with Molo Solutions, a third-party logistics company.

A resident of San Francisco, Silver says the city is at the center of autonomous vehicle testing and can see the problems it can cause. The artificial intelligence isn’t good at creating solutions to spontaneous problems, such as pedestrians running out into traffic, and will cope with the situations by often stopping and remaining stopped. Silver says the issue often holds up traffic.

Robert Brown, director of public affairs at autonomous technology company TuSimple, asked the FMCSA to come up with a 50-state solution for regulations in the sector, saying the company is having trouble testing over issues as simple as needing different licence plates and approvals to move across state lines from Arizona to Navada.

The session ended with Martinez once again calling for input and advice from the industry on the challenges, concerns, and best practices surrounding autonomous technology.

“Our ears are open.”

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