While Elaine Chao has resigned from Secretary of the Department of Transportation by the time you read this article, one of her last acts was to order the DOT to create and publish what it calls the “Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan” (AVCP).
It is no secret that self-driving trucks are still far away from becoming reality, with numerous hurdles to overcome. One such obstacle is having different manufacturers’ trucks able to effectively communicate with one another while running on different custom software.
The AVCP goes beyond trucking to include both four-wheel passenger cars and potential occupant-less low-speed vehicles to deliver items from nearby markets. While these make for interesting reads, our focus is on the vehicles that deliver well over 80% of all shipping-miles traveled in the United States: the semi-truck.
The DOT says through the AVCP that both it and the FMCSA are putting a strong priority on the safety of “drivers”, passengers, and society as a whole when it comes to automated trucks. While the DOT plans to research the effects that Automated Driving Systems have on the workforce, it has that as a low priority compared to the around 90% of accidents where the fault was with human error.
To that end, the DOT sees that most software researchers for automated truck driving are currently focusing their efforts on highways, either from exit to exit or on-ramp to off-ramp, while having a human driver handle more complicated areas for the interim. The DOT hopes to facilitate it by removing “unintended and unnecessary barriers” so that the industry can start focusing on Level 5 automation.
We have scraped the surface of the 38-page report. For the full version, check the PDF the DOT has on its website. The AVCP will be posted in the Federal Register for public comment soon.
Automated trucks are still years away, so drivers currently have no need to be worried about finding a new position: even if everything went smoothly and trucks could drive themselves on highways by the end of 2021, the last-mile delivery of being able to traverse more complicated traffic will still require humans for what we predict will be a solid decade.