Springfield News-Sun (Ohio)
Semi-Automated Trucks to Be Tested on Ohio-Indiana Route
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Ohio and Indiana have agreed to test partially automated trucks on a 166-mile stretch of Interstate 70 between Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis beginning as early as October.
The Ohio Department of Transportation and DriveOhio — an Ohio government organization focused on refining “smart mobility technology” — are rolling out a four-year, $8 million plan to bring the partially automated semi-trucks to roads in both states.
These are not self-driving vehicles, a DriveOhio director said.
“A professional driver will be always at the wheel in each vehicle, so the term ‘self-driving’ is not accurate,” said Breanna Badanes, managing director of communication and policy for DriveOhio. “These vehicles cannot drive themselves.”
The project aims to advance truck automation in the logistics industry by integrating these technologies into truck fleets’ daily freight-hauling operations, Badanes said July 26.
The earliest testing could happen would be this fall, Badanes said. But it may be pushed back to the spring of 2024.
“I also want to be clear that this project is driven by safety,” she added. “This technology has the potential to maximize safe operation and reduce the likelihood of collisions as well as making the job easier for truck drivers. We aim to test varying levels of automation, all of which still require a human driver at the wheel.”
Kevin Burch, Martin Transportation Systems’ vice president of governmental affairs and sales, said the idea of automated or autonomous vehicles gets a decidedly mixed reaction in the trucking industry.
Burch said there’s a feeling that the prospect of this technology “puts a big bind on recruiting people.”
“Who wants to put the time and effort into getting a CDL if in fact it’s going to be driverless?” he said.
He believes the technology or some version of it may be inevitable, whether it’s a milder form of “driver’s assist” or total control by a computer.
But he added: “We are many, many, many years away from total autonomy.”
Costs, public opinion and other questions complicate the issue, including how these trucks will handle heavy construction areas, he said.
“It is complicated,” Burch said.
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Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the truckers her group represents have some concerns about autonomous or partially autonomous vehicles.
“We think that common sense dictates that smaller vehicles should be perfected before allowing autonomous trucks,” Taylor said.
This kind of technology is not entirely new for Ohio.
In 2016, a semi ran test routes up and down U.S. Route 33 between Columbus and East Liberty. The driver in the front seat had no hands on the steering wheel. Like cars, these trucks use sensors and radar to operate.
More recently, in January, DriveOhio said “automated vehicles” would soon be found driving on rural roadways in central and southeast Ohio.
“Automated vehicle technology is revolutionizing the transportation industry, including the way that goods move and people travel,” DriveOhio said in January.
While there has been no formal state announcement on the semi-truck testing, the state has prepared a website explaining the issue.
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