Are We Ready for Self Driving Tractor Trailers?

Transport Topics reports that Starsky Robotics, an automated truck technology startup, successfully completed its first unmanned test drive of a tractor-trailer on a public highway June 16, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.  The Class 8 Volvo sleeper berth tractor-trailer traveled at 55 mph down a 9.4-mile stretch of Florida’s Turnpike.  Click here for a link to the article.

“Traffic was not stopped while the truck navigated the roads, merged onto the highway, entered a rest area and changed lanes. The operation was closely watched by the company from a remote location to ensure all maneuvers were executed properly. Last month, the company had a successful test at 55 mph on a closed section of Selmon Expressway outside Tampa, Fla., setting a record for the fastest unmanned road-legal vehicle.”

Starsky CEO and co-founder Stefan Seltz-Axmacher has reportedly said that, “ . . . humans are better at navigating many of the nuances of driving than even the most advanced computer systems, which is why we use remote drivers to help our trucks at their most contextually complex junctures.”

So, where is the technology headed, and what will the future look like?  Will tractor-trailers drive themselves?  Or, will they be operated remotely like military drones?  Will truck platooning allow driverless tractor-trailers to follow one another using automated speed and spacing controls along our highways?

In October 2016, now defunct Otto, a company that was focused on retrofitting tractor trailer with radars, cameras and laser sensors to make them capable of driving themselves, had one of their trucks travel 132 miles from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, Colorado autonomously without any lead vehicle, teleoperation, or any other human intervention. Uber acquired Otto that same year, but has now shut it down to focus on self-driving automobiles.

Robotic, self-driving or remotely operated trucking raises all sorts of thorny legal, regulatory, compliance and insurance issues which the state and federal governments are just beginning to deal with. The State of Tennessee passed new legislation in 2017 that allows self-driving cars in Tennessee, provided a human being is actually in the car, and that the vehicle is covered by $5,000,000 in liability insurance!  See our post, entitled: “Is Tennessee Ready for Self-Driving Cars?

But what about self-driving tractor trailers in Tennessee?

Georgia and Alabama have also passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles.

And, how will self-driving vehicles ultimately affect the insurance industry? A Bloomberg article published earlier this year suggests that autonomous vehicles may one day kill the car insurance industry as we know it!

 

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