ComVec: Early autonomous opportunities

By: Jonathan Stewart

According to the TIC, there are short- to mid-term opportunities for autonomous transport in Australia

ComVec: Early autonomous opportunities
TIC CTO Mark Hammond.


The Australian transport industry is ready to take advantage of two short- and mid-term autonomous technology advances, according to Truck Industry Council (TIC) chief technical officer Mark Hammond and, depending on regulations, possibly a third.

Presenting as part of the Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia’s ComVec 2016 event, Hammond says while the technology – platooning especially – appears to have little short-term benefits for on-highway use until Australia’s unique challenges are overcome, it does offer the chance to implement ‘green corridors’ and take advantage of off-highway, low-speed autonomous functionality.

Green corridors, currently being trialled in New South Wales and seen in parts of Northern Australia, would see heavy vehicles communicate with traffic lights and receive favourable treatment when it comes to traffic light phasing.

Hammond says the changes would see a reduction in fuel use, time wasted at red lights, and also in CO2 emissions expelled during acceleration.

"A heavy, fully-loaded truck takes a lot of stopping and a lot of starting," he adds.

"If a fully-loaded truck can communicate with the traffic lights and can extend the green phase to keep those trucks moving, then that’s a good thing for the freight companies."

It would also be a win for other road users because it would tackle congestion.

"A lot of computer modeling shows congestion, in the likes of Sydney or Melbourne, would be cut by 20-25 per cent," Hammond says.

"It’s fairly significant.

"I think short- to medium-term this technology could be a real winner."


Low-speed autonomous technology

The second positive that could be realised by the industry in the coming years is the off-highway use of driverless technology.

In a move away from highway and into the depot, the technology could see drivers no longer needed on-site for loading and unloading of the vehicle, rather they would enter and exit the truck at the front gate and the truck would organise itself.

In such a circumstance the truck’s autonomy would only extend across the depot or port, but it would mean the driver is able to begin their break as soon as they reach the destination.

The move could see a reduction in the limited fatigue management hours per day used at each end of the trip or remove any unpaid work for the driver.

Suggesting the move would offer productivity and safety improvements, Hammond says there are "some real applications for the system in Australia".


Hands and Eye Off Operation

The TIC believes the short- or mid-term benefits of a third technology, selective on-highway driver ‘hands and eyes off’ truck operation, will depend on how the regulators react.

The technology, such as Daimler’s Highway Pilot and shown in Freightliner’s Autonomous Vehicle, allows drivers to leave control of the vehicle to the vehicle during highway driving and complete other work or rest in the cab.

Already being testing in America and Europe, Hammond says the technology’s productivity and financial advantages sit with the possibility of altering fatigue management laws and extending driving hours.

"It’s all well and good for the driver to be able to rest while he’s driving along … but what’s the real advantage?" he asks.

"The driver still has to be in the truck and you still have to pay the driver."

However, should the regulations be altered to extend a driver's allowed hours behind the wheel, it may be worthwhile.

"The only advantage will be if the driver’s rest time – when he’s not actually concentrating on driving the truck – ... can be accrued and … his driving hours can be extended," Hammond says.

"And that’s going to largely be up to the regulator.

"They are going to have to get their head around things like: what is a restful activity when the driver is not hands and eyes on the road?

"For every hour of autonomous driving, will they give the driver an extension of one hour?

"It’s not going to be as good as a normal rest break, the driver’s probably not going to be in the sleeper cab asleep.

To answer these questions, trials are necessary. 

"There’s going to have to be a lot of studies to work out how fatigue management can be modified and what gains there might be," Hammond says.

"While I can see this is potentially a short- to medium-term application in Australia, I don’t know whether its got a lot of specific gains for operators or for drivers at this stage."    



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