The first driverless vehicle to hit U.S. highways is going to be a truck, not a car, and it is expected to hit construction sites in Florida later this year. Developed by Royal Truck & Equipment, a specialty vehicle manufacturer based near Bethlehem, Penn., the trucks will be fitted with attenuators designed to protect workers as well as motorists trying to navigate through temporary work zones.
While several companies, most notably Google, are developing driverless cars, Royal will be the first to test its vehicle without an operator in the cab. The attenuators are designed to provide a rolling crash barrier, which can save construction workers, as well as motorists, but put drivers of the trucks at risk. Thus Royal Truck developed a system that can be operated autonomously.
Attenuators, fitted with a portable crash barrier that can reduce injuries to a motorist, have been credited with cutting work-zone injuries and fatalities from rear-end crashes nearly in half, according to a recent study by the Journal of the Transportation Research Board.
“Connected and autonomous vehicles in general are viewed as the future of surface transportation, and this technology may be one of the first ways in which it gets commercialized,” study author Gerald Ullman, of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, told the Associated Press.
Royal’s system was developed in cooperation with Micro Systems Inc., a Florida firm that is supplies unmanned vehicles to the military. The autonomous attenuator truck uses a lead-and-follow system. In a demonstration, it closely mimicked the movements of another truck that would operate at the head of a convoy. The first of the autonomous attenuator trucks is expected to go into operation in Florida later this year as part of a pilot program run by the state’s DOT.