While crash trucks have been used for some time to successfully shield road construction workers from arrant vehicles, until now one worker has been required to sit behind the wheel and drive the truck.
The Colorado Department of Transportation, with technology from Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, recently announced its plan to road-test an unmanned autonomous crash truck in the fall of 2017.
Road Construction Worker One of Nation’s Most Dangerous Jobs
Construction workers face collision with speeding motorists on a daily basis. Nationwide, there is a work zone crash every five minutes, every day.
On May 23, 2017 in Happy Valley, Oregon, a flagger who attempted to stop a motorist driving towards a well-marked construction zone was struck by the vehicle as it plowed into the work zone.
Crash Truck Driver in Dangerous Position
To shield workers standing on the road performing maintenance, road crews have been using large crash trucks as impact attenuators. With a massive yellow or orange bumper on the back for impact absorption, crash trucks inch along behind crews that are filling potholes, striping lanes, and clearing clutter from along the roadway. While workers ahead are shielded from a collision, until now one unlucky worker has been required to drive the truck.
Colorado DOT Teams with Military Tech for Safer Crash Truck
Recognizing that risking one life to save others just doesn’t make sense, the state of Colorado’s Department of Transportation, with its relatively flexible autonomous driving regulations, has partnered with San Diego-based Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Pennsylvania-based Royal Truck & Equipment, and British engineering firm Colas UK to test self-driving, unmanned crash trucks on its roadways. Colorado’s government has a track record of welcoming autonomous vehicles. In October 2016, it allowed a self-driving Budweiser truck, shadowed by a convoy of protective vehicles, to make a delivery.
GPS Navigates Crash Truck
Like other self-driving trucks, the self-driving crash truck has a traditional body with added autonomous technology. The crash truck is controlled by a computer, which dictates both the steering and the pedals of the truck. On the road without a driver, the truck follows behind a human-driven lead car hooked up to precise GPS that emits a signal that the crash truck uses to maintain its speed, position, and heading. The truck mirrors the movements of the car that emits its location and path to the truck via radio waves, while the car uses its own radar to avoid obstacles.
Crash trucks take impact in a collision, “so the objective is to remove the driver from the vehicle,” said Maynard Factor, director of business development for Kratos’ unmanned systems division.
AIPV Can Be Adapted to Other Uses
Kratos is a military contractor that develops drones, missile-targeting systems, and unmanned ground vehicles for dangerous missions such as mine clearance. Kratos’ self-driving crash truck joins other military inventions adapted to civilian use over the years, including GPS, telegraphy, microwave, drones, and computers.
Kratos Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle’s (AIPV) technology is designed to be retrofitted on any existing crash truck, with actuators attached to the truck’s steering wheel and pedals to control them. Kratos also envisions the vehicle, costing $300,000 compared to the $150,000 cost of a manned crash truck, laying down road stripes, or with modification being used as tugs in shipping docks, as garbage trucks, and as road sweepers.
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