In a pilot program, Florida will get two driverless “crash” trucks later this year, aimed to help prevent highway construction site workers from getting injured or killed in crashes, as Michael Rubinkam writes for the Associated Press in an article appearing in The Morning Call. Royal Truck & Equipment Inc., of Coopersburg, Pa., which makes the trucks, demonstrated one on Monday, Rubinkam writes.
Road construction trucks typically are equipped with devices called truck-mounted attenuators designed to protect the workers, Rubinkam writes. “Attenuators are designed to provide a rolling crash barrier, but while that can save construction workers, as well as motorists, they put at risk the people that drive the trucks,” writes Paul A. Eisenstein for NBC News.
Although many companies are developing and testing self-driving cars, those tests always have a human in the car in case he or she needs to take over the controls, Eisenstein writes. Royal’s trucks will be the first to be tested without a human operator in them, Eisenstein reports.
Truck-mounted attenuators have been around for 30 years. One study, published this year in the Journal of the Transportation Research Board, found they cut work-zone injuries and fatalities from rear-end crashes nearly in half.
Gerald Ullman of Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute told Rubinkam that there is a lot of interest in autonomous truck-mounted attenuators, because they are safer, and they also cut down on labor costs. These autonomous trucks may be one of the first ways that self-driving vehicles come to market, Ullman said.
Rubinkam notes that Daimler Trucks North America’s self-driving tractor-trailer, which it recently demonstrated, is the first such truck to be licensed on public roads. However, Daimler said such trucks would not be on the market for years, Rubinkam reports.
Royal is collaborating on the driverless crash trucks with the Fort Walton Beach, Fla., company Micro Systems Inc., Rubinkam writes. Royal is the country’s largest manufacturer of truck-mounted attenuators, he writes. Micro Systems, which supplies unmanned vehicles to the military, developed the technology that Royal is using, Rubinkam writes.
Referring to Micro Systems, Robert Roy, Royal’s president, says in a video appearing on Royal’s website: “We’ve taken their military technology that’s used for protecting the men and women from land mines overseas, and we’ve worked with them and integrated them in what we call a TMA truck.” Roy adds: “I can tell you these things are hit almost on a daily basis, and they actually save lives.”
The video, which you can see below, features dramatic movie trailer–style music and the large truck driving itself. The steering wheel turns, and no one is sitting in the cab.