ComVec: Autonomous challenge difficult but not impossible

By: Jonathan Stewart

TIC’s Hammond says the technology can cope with many issues but others will need to be resolved early on

ComVec: Autonomous challenge difficult but not impossible
Mark Hammond speaks on autonomous driving at ComVec.


Truck Industry Council (TIC) chief technical officer Mark Hammond has reinforced the call for trials into the benefits of autonomous trucking and highlighted the unique circumstances that Australia faces in integrating the technology.

Speaking on the first day of the Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia’s ComVec 2016 event, Hammond rejected any suggestions that the technology would not suit Australian conditions but explained the advantages may be dampened in the short term.

From the perspective of transport companies, Hammond says operators are unlikely to see significant fuel savings from platooning their fleets.

In fact, he suggests some of the benefits of platooning, which would require operators to send out multiple vehicles at the same time, may cause delays during loading and unloading, as many companies aren’t equipped to handle multiple trucks at once.

The technology may also have a significant impact on small operators and owner-drivers, who would not have the benefit of creating a platoon from start to finish, if at all.

In terms of physical barriers, Hammond says excessive dust, inconsistent lane widths, and state-unique road rules are part of potential issues but the massive variations in GCM and combination performance across Australia’s aging fleet of trucks is a real problem.

"You could have a single trailer towed by a 500hp prime mover, its volume-loaded so it only weighs about 30 tonne, and equally that same prime mover could be pulling a 68-tonne B-triple," he says.

"If you have trucks in a convoy, you are going to need similar performance characteristics – either that or you’ll need to have the slowest truck at the front and that’s probably not an ideal situation."

The camber height of local roads may also present a unique challenge, especially in the case of multi-combinations, where vehicles may angle towards the road-edge and cause subsequent platooning vehicles to travel away from the centre of the road.

"Potentially, if you have a B-double or a B-triple and the second truck in the platoon is following that and picking up off the last trailer, they could be a fair way off the road," Hammond says.

Unlike in Europe, where roads are flatter, "you’re not necessarily going to be able to piggy-back off the trailer in front of you in Australia".

Non-existent or poor road markings and signs will also play a negative role in the functionally of the technology, making it less useful in remote locations where long stretches of straight roads may offer its greatest benefit to counter driver fatigue.

"A lot of these technologies do rely on a centre line and edging to stay on the road," Hammond says.

"If they’re not there, then some of this technology will struggle."

Dismissing claims the technology will not translate to Australia’s remote locations, Hammond says "the size of the country, its isolation, its GPS or mobile coverage, [aren’t] really an issue for this technology".

"I don’t see [them] having any bearings on rolling out the technology in Australia," he says.

Multi-trailer combinations, heat, and the use of dirt roads are also non-issues, he says, as the technology deals with these problems in America and Europe.



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