With all of the amazing technological developments in the past few years it is possible to say we have autonomous truck driving now. All of this technology is in trucks being sold on the highways of Europe, of course, but a lot of that functionality is accessible to trucks being sold on the Australian truck market today.
This video from Wabco shows us just where the world of electronic technology has brought us. These systems are being fitted by all of the major truck manufacturers of the world and, in practical terms, it is possible to specify a truck today which could be considered autonomous to a certain extent.
We can turn around and ask why we need to think about this, because autonomous driving is a long way off in somewhere like Australia. Well, it’s not, it’s with us now, we’re more than halfway there. There are trucks on the road which could fall under the definition of autonomous.
According to the SAE there are a list of levels of autonomy from zero to five. We do not have level five vehicles on our roads. These are those which can go all the way from point A to point B themselves without any need for human interference.
However we do have some level three and level four autonomy going on in the trucking industry today. The concept of active cruise control has been around for some time and the giveaway sign is the little black box mounted in the centre of the truck bumper area. This is the radar which is seeing what’s in front of the truck, where it is, how far away it is and how fast it is going.
Because ACC will use engine control to keep the truck at a set distance behind any vehicle in front of the truck, this can be regarded as level three, conditional automation. It will keep the truck safe, but the driver will be alerted to intervene if emergency braking is needed.
The next step up is the kind of ACC now appearing in new trucks. In this system the ability to autonomously activate emergency braking has been added. In this case, if the car in front jams all of its brakes on, the truck will follow suit and come to a halt before hitting the car, in most cases. This makes the system a level four, high automation, no human action needed.
This video shows further level four automation, with the system taking control of the steering and bringing the truck safely to a halt, and in a straight line. Quite an achievement!