You have heard that the Uber-acquired self-driving truck startup delivered 51 cases of Budweiser in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Leaving Fort Collins before dawn, the truck managed to navigate its way through downtown Denver and then on to Colorado Springs.
The Volvo truck utilizes different cameras, including radar, lidar and other advanced software augments to see the road and track objects around the vehicle. The automated system in this test run controlled the truck’s acceleration, braking and steering.
The only human intervention required was when the truck was driven onto the interstate and when it exited the interstate. Otherwise, the truck driver sat in the cab and monitored the system as it worked. Even though the truck mostly drove itself, take note that a truck driver was still required. In a future of semi-autonomous rigs, imagine the truck driver as a co-pilot to the software.
With states like Nevada and Colorado opening their roads to this kind of testing, expect to see many more pilots like this to come. So how will the Department of Transportation (DOT) respond as semi-autonomous become more prevalent, both in testing and on the road?
Rules and Regulations
On September 20, the DOT issued a regulatory framework for manufacturers, entitled the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, where semi-autonomous vehicles are concerned. The framework is designed to be adopted by both state regulators and industry players and governs both the development and deployment of autonomous cars and trucks.
Considering both traditional manufacturers and tech giants are increasingly partnering up and getting closer to bringing this technology to bear, it’s no surprise that the DOT is finally weighing in.
The document they issued on September 20th consists of a 114-page document that the DOT will accept public comment on for 60 days from the date of publication. Distilled down into its basic components, the document intends to set safety standards and help guide a unified national policy framework on how autonomous vehicles will be developed and driven.
What’s in the Details?
The proposed guidelines do several important things. First, they suggest a 15-point safety assessment. This assessment will need to be completed at the manufacturer and submitted to the DOT showing how their vehicles meet specified requirements concerning crashworthiness, privacy, safety systems and more.
The fact is this: Automated vehicles have the potential to add a whole new level of safety on the road without negatively impacting trucking jobs. To highlight this fact, the DOT noted in their release that out of over 35,000 people killed in the U.S. last year in car accidents, the clear majority of them were a result of “human error.”
The DOT is also moving beyond initial safety assessment and basic regulations. They have also set roles relative to how federal and state agencies will handle semi-autonomous trucks traveling over interstate highways. The federal government has (no surprise here) reserved the right to retain control over setting standards and compliance goals.
The states will be responsible for licensing those driving semi-autonomous trucks and registering the rigs. They will also handle enforcement and inspections.
A New Advisory Committee
The newest development comes in the form of an advisory committee set up by the DOT. Per Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the committee will handle information gathering, develop technical advice and present recommendations. Their work will cover autonomous vehicles, smart roads and highways and enhanced freight movement.
The DOT is looking for 15 people to serve on the committee, preferably those with cross-modal perspectives. They will be looking for thoughts on robotics, intelligent systems, and advanced technology deployment.
Committee members will serve a 2-year term. Of course, the DOT will be selecting these individuals, but members can be nominated through a transparent process. If you are interested in nominating yourself or someone else, get in contact with firstname.lastname@example.org.