The Colorado Department of Transportation said it deployed a
first-of-its-kind driverless work zone truck rigged to protect maintenance crews by absorbing the impact from vehicle crashes.
While DOTs have long used trucks with rear-attached impact attenuators or crash cushion devices to ride behind mobile maintenance crews doing such work as road striping, those shielding trucks had to have drivers who could be injured if other vehicles struck them in certain ways.
But on Aug. 18 CDOT and a group of partners that helped develop the new "autonomous impact-protection vehicle" showcased the AIPV in action without a driver behind the wheel, during a live roadway striping operation by a crew in a lead truck at Fort Collins.
"We're the first to deploy it," said CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt, although "I think there's lots of others who are interested."
The department also showed the live project demonstration in a YouTube video (below).
The agency's CEO explained what led to using driverless technology in a slow-moving work truck that is already designed to absorb a hit.
"Just in the last four years, there have been 26 incidents where a member of the traveling public struck a CDOT impact-protection vehicle – that's almost seven per year," said Bhatt.
He continued: "This is a dangerously high number when you consider that in some instances a CDOT employee is sitting in the driver's seat of the vehicle that was hit. By using self-driving technology, we're able to take the driver out of harm's way while still effectively shielding roadside workers."
A department spokesman said the 26 vehicle strikes of CDOT trucks in recent years does not include crashes into contractors' units. And in Texas, he said, "they have one of these vehicles hit almost every week."
CDOT noted that between 2000 and 2014 Colorado saw 21,898 crashes and 171 fatalities in roadway work zones. It added that nationwide, according to the Federal Highway Administration, work zones in 2015 suffered a crash every 5.4 minutes, producing 70 crash-related injuries a day and 12 crash-related fatalities a week.
The AIPV is designed to reduce those numbers by using technology that mimics the position, speed and direction of the lead work vehicle, which transmits a signal to the trailing driverless vehicle, ensuring that the crash-protection truck is always correctly positioned between roadway workers and live traffic. Bhatt compared the technology to "an electronic tether" that guides the AIPV.
CDOT said that as part of its RoadX program to developing innovative technologies for transportation problems, the department and Colas UK, Royal Truck & Equipment and Kratos Defense and Security Solutions adapted military technology for use in the AIPV to absorb or deflect vehicles that cross into work zones.
It said Colas, which provides civil engineering, maintenance and construction services in the United Kingdom is testing the same technology for use in work zones there, and sharing test methods and lessons learned with CDOT. Royal Truck & Equipment built the AIPV using the latest technology, including the industry's largest variable message board mounted to the truck to generate messages to other motorists. Kratos Defense designed the hardware and software needed to provide the driverless capability to the AIPV, CDOT said.
Prior to the Aug. 18 live roadway operation, CDOT said it "conducted extensive testing of the AIPV's emergency stopping and obstacle detection systems. Testing also confirmed the vehicle's ability to stay in its lane and make tight turns."
But Bhatt said the live demonstration in an actual mobile work environment "proves that technology can take transportation safety to a new level, and forever improve the way we work."
Here is the CDOT video of the AIPV in action.
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