DOT funds $7.5M project for automated fleet driving systems

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Updated May 12, 2020
Pronto Copilot integrates with existing vehicle systems and controls to keep a vehicle centered in its lane.Pronto Copilot integrates with existing vehicle systems and controls to keep a vehicle centered in its lane.

A new four-year study, led by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) in partnership with a 16-member team, is seeking to provide the trucking industry, regulators, and the general public with practical guidelines for safely integrating automated driving systems into current fleets. The research is funded by a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“This research will accelerate the analysis of automated systems with the trucking industry,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “This will improve safety and maximize the economic investments in freight and commerce.”

Additional funding is provided by the Virginia Department of Transportation and cost share from the project team members.

“The introduction of automation into heavy trucks is expected to have a profound effect. However, it is still unclear how these vehicles should best be integrated into fleet operations with conventional trucks,” said Richard Hanowski, director of VTTI’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety. “This generous grant from the Department of Transportation will enable VTTI and our partners to produce critical data to help guide rulemaking and fleet operations.”

The operational plan, formally called a fleet concept of operations, will include best practices for technology deployment, driver training, installation and maintenance, inspection procedures, insurance, roadway readiness, data, and cybersecurity for automated driving systems.

Penske Transportation Solutions is the lead maintenance and vehicle supplier to the program. The company’s truck leasing and logistics business units will help spec the vehicles, and define best practices for installing and maintaining automated driving systems, and perform road tests in a delivery setting.

“We are excited to be part of this industry-leading collaboration to help identify and solve some of the challenges of deploying automated commercial trucks within a fleet setting,” said Sherry Sanger, executive vice president of marketing at Penske Transportation Solutions.

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The team will work with safety technology developer Pronto to demonstrate the safe and gradual integration of various levels of advanced automation technology into fleet operations on public U.S. roadways.

Pronto’s technology will be retrofitted into existing heavy vehicles to support the research. Common driving situations, such as queuing in ports, drayage operations, and exit-to-exit scenarios, will be tested using an evolutionary phased approach, resulting in a critical review of the extent to which the theoretical safety benefits of automation can be captured in practical, real-life trucking operations.

One demonstration will involve a highly automated truck driving across the country in the first uninterrupted cross-country journey of its kind.

“We look forward to working closely with VTTI and the other partners to develop a practical framework for bringing advanced safety technologies to market,” said Robbie Miller, Pronto’s CEO. “Rather than building systems to replace drivers or attempting to ‘disrupt’ and compete with established trucking fleets and manufacturers, we think all stakeholders working together will result in new and meaningful solutions to bring more safety and comfort to the truck driving experience.”

A primary objective of the study is to show how automated driving systems can be implemented in a safe, reliable, repeatable, and commercially viable manner. As such, the team intends to demonstrate a realistic, “mixed-fleet” approach and generate data of practical importance to the trucking industry, regulators, and the public at large.

“Hub Group is committed to advancing technologies that make our roads safer, benefit our customers and reduce our impact on the environment,” said Phil Yeager, president and COO of Hub Group, a $4 billion supply chain solutions provider and one of only two trucking companies on the VTTI project team. “Autonomous Driving Systems represent great potential, and we’re thrilled to work alongside Pronto and the rest of the team on making safe, practical integration of autonomy a reality for our fleet and our nearly 5,000 drivers in the foreseeable future.”

Roadshows are being planned to give truck drivers, fleet managers, government officials, insurance reps, inspection agencies, and the general public the opportunity to learn firsthand about commercial vehicle Automated Driving System (ADS) technologies. Attendees will be able to meet technology developers and ADS integrators, as well as participate in hands-on demonstrations on closed tracks.