Self-Driving Trucks: Automation That Can Save Lives on the Road

PHOTO: Royal Truck & Equipment autonomous truck mounted attenuator vehicle being tested. Shoemakersville, PA. ABC News. PlayABC News
WATCH Self-Driving Trucks: What Could Make Automation Safe for You

Highway workers face many dangers in active road work zones. Despite safety measure, their lives are at risk every day as they perform repairs on our roadways.

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Their first line of defense are warning signs and arrow boards for drivers to know of road work ahead. But another important safety measure is the truck-mounted attenuator, which provides a safety barrier between moving vehicles and workers on the road.

Royal Truck & Equipment has created the first autonomous truck-mounted attenuator that promises to add an extra layer of safety.

“In an effort to remove the driver and workers from an unsafe situation, we identified this as an opportunity to try to take drivers out of the truck and replace it with the autonomous technology,” Royal Truck & Equipment CEO Robert Roy said.

Attenuators are designed to be a crash cushion and barrier. They use an aluminum honey comb filled with air or sand to absorb or redirect a colliding vehicle away from the workers and machinery and have been credited with saving lives. The attenuators are mounted on the back of trucks.

The typical work zone safety setup has workers or machinery in front of the manned truck-mounted attenuator. The autonomous truck will add an extra layer of safety since it will be behind the manned vehicle.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 49 road workers were killed by moving vehicles in 2014.

This autonomous technology was developed by Micro Systems Inc., a firm that has provided unmanned vehicles to the military. Micro Systems’ "Multi-Platform Appliqué Kit" has a vehicle-controlled computer that controls motors to let the vehicle know when to turn, accelerate, stop and avoid obstacles while mimicking the exact speed, heading and the direction of the leader vehicle.

The trucks can be retrofitted to be autonomous with mechanical actuators that replicate the leading manned vehicle and replicate steering, breaking and the acceleration from GPS data supplied by the manned vehicle.

“We are pioneering this industry. We are using the latest cutting-edge technology to make work environments a safer place,” said Maynard Factor, the business development manager for Micro Systems.

Royal Truck & Equipment is currently testing the technology and hopes one day to have these trucks on the road.

“Every day, we feel better about what we do and that’s the juice that keeps us going when we built these trucks,” Roy said.

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