A Coopersburg truck manufacturer is bringing wireless technology to the industry and demonstrating how it can be used to operate a driverless truck it built for road construction work zones.
Royal Truck & Equipment Inc. conducted a test in the parking lot at Bethlehem Memorial Pool on Monday to show how the technology can be applied in a truck without a driver.
For the demonstration, a lead vehicle with a human driver circled the lot while a worker standing on the back of the vehicle slowly dropped traffic cones. The automated truck, with a rider in the passenger side, followed the lead vehicle’s route with no one in the driver’s seat.
To bring this technology closer to application in real situations, the company is embarking on a pilot program with the Florida Department of Transportation to evaluate the effectiveness of the technology to improve safety during road construction.
Royal Truck makes ATMA Trucks. These trucks, which have autonomous truck mounted attenuator technology, are designed to save lives and act as barriers to protect workers and equipment from an errant vehicle, said Robert Roy, president of Royal Truck. They intend to absorb the impact of a crash, decrease damage made to each vehicle involved and save lives, Roy said.
“It could be available for commercial use, but every state requires you to have a rider in the cab,” said Andrew Roberts, director of business development and marketing for Royal Truck. “The purpose of this is to operate in a semi-protected work zone.”
Royal Truck teamed with Micro Systems Inc., a Florida-based technology company, to test the use of the driverless trucks in the Florida DOT work zones as early as December, Roy said.
The ATMA truck is outfitted with an electro-mechanical system and fully integrated sensor suite that allows it to follow a lead vehicle unmanned, Roy said.
“The technology is being adapted to the roadway construction industry and leveraged from existing systems currently deployed in use by the U.S. military,” Roy said.
The operation of this vehicle will be in a configuration called leader/follower to replicate real-world operation, Roy said.
The leader vehicle is a human-driven vehicle that can be any vehicle available for use and outfitted with a navigation module strapped to the roof of the vehicle during testing, he explained. The module contains a GPS receiver, system computer, digital compass and a transceiver that transmits data back to the follower vehicle, which uses that information to follow the exact path and speed of the lead vehicle.
Workers can also adapt the technology to various types of trucks. If different leader vehicles are required, the navigation module can be unstrapped and removed from one vehicle and installed on another, he added.
For the pilot program, workers from Royal Truck will automate two TMA vehicles, field them, train workers and evaluate the operation on closed road-construction work zones. Royal and MSI will work in conjunction with the Florida Department of Transportation, collecting data and evaluating the results, Roy said.
“The pilot program will yield a significant amount of never-before captured data regarding the automation of road construction vehicles and the utilization of these vehicles in work zones,” Roy said. “The knowledge gained by this program will be publicized and not only benefit the [Florida] DOT, but DOTs across the United States, insurance providers, road construction companies and most importantly, roadside workers.”
How soon before the technology finds its way to the Greater Lehigh Valley?
It’s too early to tell.
“The Florida DOT wants to be the prototype,” Roy said. “They are being very aggressive in doing that.”
He said Royal Truck is looking to introduce the technology to other states.
“As of right now, no one can use an unmanned vehicle,” Roy said.
However, once approved by Florida, the technology could start to be used immediately in road work zones in that state, he said.
The company is building its first two trucks for Florida workers to use as unmanned vehicles.
Providing a greater level of safety for road workers is paramount, according to Roy.
“Workers are being injured in their trucks all the time,” Roy said.
The company wanted to start testing the technology in its own backyard, added Samantha Schwartz, marketing and business development manager for Royal Truck.