Highway work crews in the US state of Florida may be among the first people in the world to see real benefits from the development of driverless road vehicles.
Development work by Royal Truck & Equipment has led the company to automate its truck-mounted attenuator vehicles, which are literally a mobile crash barriers designed to protect road crews from traffic. While these vehicles usually have a driver the new electro-mechanical system developed by the company integrates with a suite of sensors that allow the truck to follow a lead vehicle, without having to put a human driver in the line of danger.
“Any time a driver can be removed from these vehicles in a very dangerous situation, and if the vehicle’s struck, there’s nobody inside of it to receive the damage or the injuries…that’s measuring success,” said Rob Roy president of Royal Truck and Equipment.
The company has created its prototypes by adapting existing technology. The system works by having the lead vehicle, which has a human driver, leave digital crumbs for the automated vehicle to follow. These crumbs act as waypoints, making the automated vehicle mimic the exact speed and path followed by the leader. The module that provides all the navigation data can easily be swapped form one lead vehicle or another.
Two vehicles are scheduled to hit the road with work crews before the end of the year, as part of a government-backed demonstration programme.