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The Long Road to Driverless Trucks

Restricting these trucks to the highway also plays to their strengths. “The biggest problems for long-haul truckers are fatigue, distraction and boredom,” Mr. Rodrigues explained on a recent afternoon as one of his company’s trucks cruised down a highway in Northern California. “Robots don’t have a problem with any of that.”

It’s a sound strategy, but even this will require years of additional development.

Part of the challenge is technical. Though self-driving trucks can handle most of what happens on a highway — merging into traffic from an on-ramp, changing lanes, slowing for cars stopped on the shoulder — companies are still working to ensure they can respond to less common situations, like a sudden three-car pileup.

As he continued down the highway, Mr. Rodrigues said his company has yet to perfect what he calls evasive maneuvers. “If there is an accident in the road right in front of the vehicle,” he explained, “it has to stop itself quickly.” For this and other reasons, most companies do not plan on removing safety drivers from their trucks until at least 2024. In many states, they will need explicit approval from regulators to do so.

But deploying these trucks is also a logistical challenge — one that will require significant changes across the trucking industry.

In shuttling goods between Dallas and Atlanta, Kodiak’s truck did not drive into either city. It drove to spots just off the highway where it could unload its cargo and refuel before making the return trip. Then traditional trucks picked up the cargo and drove “the last mile” or final leg of the delivery.

In order to deploy autonomous trucks on a large scale, companies must first build a network of these “transfer hubs.” With an eye toward this future, Kodiak recently inked a partnership with Pilot, a company that operates traditional truck stops across the country. Today, these are places where truck drivers can shower and rest and grab a bite to eat. The hope is that they can also serve as transfer hubs for driverless trucks.

“The industry can’t afford to build this kind of infrastructure from scratch,” said Kodiak’s chief executive, Don Burnette. “We have to find ways of working with the existing infrastructure.”

Sumber: www.nytimes.com

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