A self-driving truck recently completed the first cross-country trip by an automated tractor-trailer (Embark Self-Driving Truck Completes Coast-to-Coast Test Run). A modified Peterbilt tractor, equipped with self-driving software created by technology startup Embark, made the 2,400-mile trek from Los Angeles to Jacksonville in five days.
The automated driving software performed virtually all of the highway driving, but an actual human being was in the driver’s seat ready to intervene if necessary. The current technology is an example of Level 2 automation, which requires a human driver to constantly monitor the vehicle’s operation.
“The driver is always responsible for being attentive and making sure that everything is safe, but the driver will regularly go many hours down the road without actually being involved, and when they are involved, it’s usually just for a few seconds,” said Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues.
Eventually Embark plans to develop the technology required for Level 4 automation, which would allow the trucks to travel on designated routes without a driver. The automated trucks would haul trailers on the highway, but local drivers would still be needed to perform the more complicated driving skills required at the start and finish of the trip.
Because the human driver was still subject to hours-of-service limits, Embark’s initial automated truck still required the standard five days to cross the country. But a truck with Level 4 automation could make the trip in just two days by driving non-stop. “Obviously that would radically change the dynamics of freight,” Rodrigues said.
The idea of self-driving tractor-trailers hunting us all down in the future after the machines have taken over is a scary thought, but in reality, these technological advancements will make our highways safer for American drivers. We need to encourage more innovation from trucking companies and do everything we can to make sure they put safety ahead of profits.
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