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Autonomous trucks – the solution of several pressing problems

It is known that the safety of traffic on the roads and the reduction of harmful emissions into the environment have long become trends. The search for the resolution of these problems was undertaken at once by several large world companies in several countries. On the agenda of the engineers of these companies was the development of autonomous heavy trucks.

Why do we need self-driving trucks?

According to various research centers, the cause of more than 80% of road accidents is the human factor. According to the developers, the use of unmanned technologies will significantly improve the situation and reduce accidents on the roads. And also increase the service life of the vehicles themselves.

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that there are two effective options for reducing the amount of harmful exhaust in the atmosphere and at the same time reducing fuel consumption: either form a column of vehicles from those that already exist and send them on schedule, or send a certain number of vans at once in one column.

The movement of wagons in close proximity to each other increases the efficiency of fuel use. Like flocks of birds, wedges of fighters or groups of racing cars, trucks experience less aerodynamic resistance when moving at close range. Scientists from MIT considered these indicators in comparison with the cost, energy consumption and environmental impact.

Autonomous control allows trucks to move at a distance of only 15 meters from each other against 50 meters, usually required for a driven cars. And this allows to optimize the airflow and, consequently, reduce the drag for cars that follow the leader.

What are the trucks equipped with?

Each truck has a control system NEDO, which includes cameras and radars. The system will determine the appropriate route of travel, while maintaining a safe distance in accordance with the map of the GPS-navigator and processing the data received from the cameras / radars.

Another ability of the NEDO system is the simultaneous start of the whole column of trucks. Usually vehicles start with some delay after the previous one, which leads to drags on the roads. Now this can be avoided.

Trucks communicate with each other via encrypted radio transmission, and in the main bulk vehicle there is a control panel on which all processes are displayed. Vehicles are interchangeable, and in which case each of them can take on the role of “leader”. In addition, all have a navigation system to coordinate the movement of the column in accordance with a clearly defined route and not depend entirely on the main car.

While the first test drives of cars are made with the driver. During the tests, the Lane Keeping Assist System is activated, which allows the driver to pull away from the rudder for a while. In bad weather or lack of road marking, the electronics with help of sound and light signals asks the driver to take control by himself, and if he does not do it, the machine stops automatically. When driving to small roads, the driver takes control, while he can retain control of several cars.

Unmanned trucks will also use the following technical solutions:
– availability of auxiliary driver assistance systems AEBS (advanced emergency braking system) or AEB (autonomous emergency braking) – systems of emergency braking of vehicles capable of independently slowing or stopping the truck when approaching an obstacle caused by both terrain and road surface, and an unexpected change road conditions (running out onto a pedestrian or animal road, getting on the road of a foreign object, getting onto the road part of the construction of another vehicle)
– installation of LDWS (lane departure warning systems) – control systems for crossing the dividing strip
– installation of a system of confinement in the LAS (Lane-keep Assist System)
– Blind Spot Assist Sensor
– installation of the proximity control system
– the presence of a system of automatic recognition of road signs, etc.

The whole system is hidden under the body and does not irritate the eyes.

So far, tests take place on closed, safe roads, without a “live” movement.

Opponents of the development

According to Geektimes, the truck driver is the most popular profession in most US states.

Not everyone sees the right decision to switch to automated unmanned truck management. In May, the drivers of Airgas, the carrier of industrial gases, began to strike in part because of the proposed provision in the contract, which would allow their subsidiary company to use stand-alone trucks.

In New York, the New York Communities for Change Joint Group is campaigning to stop public funding for research on autonomous vehicles until a plan to protect drivers is developed. “If companies do not take into account what happens to drivers today, we will all lose our jobs,” says one of the activists Rolando Perdono.

There are three opinions about the long-term consequences of AI for employment. The first states that the achievements in the field of robotics will lead to increased productivity and will free people from monotonous work. The second group fears that due to technology there will be so few available jobs that a lot of unemployed will appear. Still others say that all this is a hype, and significant achievements have to wait for decades.

Governments should explore options for the transition to the use of unmanned trucks, to avoid possible social upheaval caused by the reduction in the number of jobs, as stated in the report published by the International Transport Forum (ITF) and the three partner organizations.

What companies are involved in the development?

The development of unmanned heavy-duty trucks was tackled by The Nеw Еnergy and Industriаl Тechnology Dеvelopment Оrganization, Arocs от Mercedes-Benz, the Chineese company FAW Jiefang Automotive Waymo, Ford, Alphabet, KamAZ and Tesla.

Tesla continues to develop vehicles that reduce the amount of exhaust gases in the atmosphere, releasing more and more new eco-cars. The company will present the first model of an autonomous truck on electric traction in November.

Representatives of Tesla held talks with the Ministries of Motor Vehicles in California and Nevada about the testing of autonomous vehicles weighing more than 4.5 tons. According to the employee of the California Ministry of Transport Jessica Gonzalez, the testing of unmanned vehicles of such mass is not allowed by law, therefore officials are going to develop new regulation rules specially for Tesla. The bill is also run by the California Road Police.

In Tesla’s official appeal to the ministries, it is said that for the tests the company will create echelons of trucks, and also will test autonomous functions. In this case, the driver will not be in the cabin.

On the innovative functions of electric trucks, the head of Tesla Ilon Mask hinted back in April in his microblog on Twitter. “The team did an amazing job. This is a whole new level, “he wrote. As Bloomberg notes, in the automotive industry, the “next level” may indicate a new class of autonomy. This is indicated by a teaser image of the future truck, which shows that the van lacks rear-view mirrors.

Trucks Tesla Semi will have the highest load capacity with the maximum power reserve. The vehicle will be equipped with several engines of an electric vehicle Model 3. Also Ilon Mask promised that the power of the torque of the wagon will be surpassed by any diesel tractor.

The company will present the truck in September, and its mass production will begin in 18-24 months. In total, there are 8 automobile projects in the development of Tesla.