States Host Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Testing, Truck Platooning

CSG convened the Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Policy Academy June 12-14, 2017 in Detroit. A group of state policymakers from around the country attended the event. The academy included a panel looking at research, technology and testing of autonomous and connected vehicles. Speakers included Hideki Hada, executive engineer for electronics systems at Toyota, Michelle Chaka of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and Steve Boyd of Peloton Technology.

Automakers Partnering with Michigan to Test Connected Automation

The state of Michigan is quickly becoming a showcase state for research and development of autonomous and connected vehicles on both closed courses and public roads. One such closed course is Mcity at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, which policy academy attendees had the opportunity to visit on June 14. The university is working with 65 industry partners on 30 funded research projects and testing vehicles in an environment that simulates real world urban and suburban driving conditions.

Toyota is one of those partners. As Hideki Hada of Toyota Motor North America R&D told policy academy attendees, the ultimate goal of Toyota’s efforts is to achieve zero casualties from traffic crashes. Toyota is working on the integration of individual safety systems that can bring a variety of technology solutions to different stages of a crash. The company plans to make automated braking standard on nearly every model of Lexus and Toyota by the end of this year.

Fully automated driving will come a bit further down the road for Toyota and involve two enabling technologies: automated on-board systems that can recognize situations, make decisions and prevent accidents and cooperative systems that rely on wireless communications to detect hazards that can’t be seen by onboard systems alone.

In the meantime, Toyota’s concept for automated driving assist relies on the mobility teammate concept, Hada said. The idea is to create a mutually supportive partnership between driver and vehicle. This partnership allows the vehicle system to sense driving environment needs and driver capabilities and provide adaptive support to the driver so they can operate the vehicle sufficiently.   

While many automakers are concerned about state policymakers creating a patchwork of laws around the country that could make it difficult to determine where they can test these technologies and under what conditions, Toyota has another concern as well, Hada said.

“We sell cars globally,” he said. “We also have to consider the difference between the U.S. and Europe. … If the global standard is different from the U.S. standard, now we have to have two different software (products). That increases the costs and we have to test twice.”

Hada said Toyota views automated driving as not just a way to improve convenience but as a way to contribute to a better society.

Virginia Tech No Stranger to Testing

Virginia is another state that has been extremely active in testing autonomous and connected vehicles in a variety of settings. The commonwealth is doing much of this research in close partnership with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).

The Virginia Smart Road is a full-scale, 2.2 mile closed test bed research facility managed by VTTI and owned and maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation in Montgomery County. It has two paved lanes and three bridges. Since opening in 2000, more than 26,000 hours of research have been logged on the test bed.

But Virginia has more in mind than closed test bed testing.

“We have a clear path on how we migrate from our test track to open, real roads,” said Michelle Chaka, a senior research associate at VTTI. “Governor McAuliffe declared Virginia open for business (in a 2015 proclamation) and welcomed people to come do autonomous testing on our roads in Virginia. The reason he felt comfortable doing this … is a partnership with VTTI. What his proclamation (said) was ‘come test on our roads, work with Virginia Tech to make sure you’ve done the due diligence in order to test safely on our open roads.’”

Chaka said the promise of automation is in its potential to improve safety, mitigate traffic congestion, increase mobility and improve efficiency. But the technology to get there is revolutionary and complex. Since 2005, VTTI has been working on more than 30 projects related to connected vehicles. The institute believes connected vehicle technology is a key factor that may help enable robust and reliable deployment of vehicle automation, Chaka said.

But one of the challenges of getting to automation is that despite the work of VTTI and others, there is so far only limited research and data available to help allay the concerns about these technologies.

‘There is just this widespread uncertainty … because there is limited data especially in the public domain and so while companies are off collecting all this data, there is still this limited access to the larger stakeholders around the data and the research to really resolve some of that uncertainty,” Chaka said. “Even if you have that data, you’re trying to then really apply it to a changing landscape and that’s really complex. In order to complete the data, you really do need to have these really complex vehicle situations that you’re testing in a real-world environment.”

Chaka said VTTI is committed to efforts to amass that data.

“It’s really important that we go out and we test and we iterate and we test,” she said. “And we’re trying to provide an environment that’s as safe as possible to be able to develop the data that’s needed to make really good policy decisions moving forward.”

VTTI is also extending its reach beyond the commonwealth’s borders by partnering with others on a National Cooperative Highway Research Program project to provide guidance and resources to state departments of transportation and departments of motor vehicles as they seek to address potential legal challenges that will result from the rollout of highly automated vehicles. That project is expected to be completed by Spring 2018.

Peloton Explores Truck Platooning

Policy academy attendees also had the opportunity to hear from Steve Boyd, co-founder and vice president of external affairs at Peloton Technology, an automated vehicle truck platooning technology company that is working to solve a couple of the biggest challenges facing the trucking industry: safety and fuel use.

“At the core of what we’re doing now, we’re empowering the driver to be safer and more effective and the fleet to be able to better manage the vehicles,” said Boyd. “We’re seeing now massive acceleration in the growth of automation and connectivity in truck solutions around the world. We’re building on several decades now of research on R&D related to both truck platooning and other kinds of truck automation.”

Boyd noted that the $700 billion freight trucking industry faces more than $100 billion in fuel costs annually, which account for more than 34 percent of operating costs. Crash costs are more than $90 billion a year. Those are big numbers given that the industry has just a net profit of 3 percent, Boyd said.

“What we’re doing is we’re improving individual truck safety on each truck so it’s safer all the time, everywhere it goes.,” he said. “We’re doing that by requiring best in class active safety on every truck: lane departure warning, collision avoidance and air disc brakes as well as advanced, over-the-rise alerts and better information for the driver so the drivers are more aware of the road ahead, the system’s aware of the road ahead and is able to adjust whether platooning is allowed based on the conditions coming up and the driver can also make their own judgments about whether they think the scenarios ahead are appropriate for platooning as well as right around them.”

Boyd said Peloton’s current vision of truck platooning is perhaps different from the way some have come to think about it and even the way other platooning companies are exploring the concept.

“At all times, the drivers are fully in command of the vehicles,” he said. “This is not higher automation. This is driver-engaged safety, driver-assisted. We see that as the first step of how these kind of solutions come out. You build a base of higher-performing vehicles, safer vehicles that empower the drivers and then building upon that you can increase the automation in increments based on what is appropriate for different kinds of driving environments.”

The company is only platooning two trucks at a time, not longer chains of trucks. Peloton is seeking to become the first company to deploy vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) connectivity inside their trucks that can be utilized with vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications once that infrastructure is in place.

“V2V provides the ability to synchronize these trucks,” Boyd said. “You get a 30 millisecond or faster connection, meaning the braking and acceleration are synced up. What this does is it eliminates the perception and reaction time between the two vehicles so you can reduce the headway. It eliminates the effect of the brake lag because as soon as the activation of braking occurs in the front truck, the rear truck is braking and backing off.”

Live video from the lead truck’s perspective is used to inform the driver in the truck following behind in order to improve safety further. Peloton also only allows platooning on multi-lane, divided, limited-access highways, and only under appropriate weather and traffic conditions.

Boyd said eight states (Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas) currently have commercial approval for Peloton to operate truck platooning. Another eight states (Alabama, Arizona, California Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon and Utah) either allow or are in discussions to allow platooning testing or trials.

Other states that may be looking to host truck platooning may need to take a close look at their motor vehicle code, Boyd said.

“There are 29 states that have a ‘reasonable and prudent’ following distance standard, meaning there’s not a specific numeric distance required between tractor-trailers, and then there are 21 that have a numeric distance of some kind,” he said. “In those states, we found that legislation or some sort of administrative waiver is necessary. …We found a lot of good results though in getting legislation passed and Michigan led the way here a year ago with passage of a commercial deployment law. Since that time, we’ve gotten seven more states to move ahead—a couple of them administratively—and more on the way.”