Weather Sensors Will Aid Autonomous Trucks in Fort Worth

Network of Detectors to Provide Data on Road Conditions
Fort Worth traffic
Traffic flows on Interstate 35W in Fort Worth. Autonomous delivery trucks are being tested on Texas highways. (Amanda McCoy/Fort Worth Star-Telegram via Tribune Content Agency)

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The federal government awarded Fort Worth, Texas, $2 million to test weather sensors on autonomous freight truck routes.

The grant was one of 34 doled out by the U.S. Department of Transportation to cities in March as a part of its Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation initiative, a creation of the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law designed to modernize transportation resources across the country. Fort Worth hopes the new network of detectors will feed swift, precise data on road conditions to the city’s growing fleet of self-driving semitrailers.

“Weather phenomena like severe rainfall and dense fog can degrade the accuracy of critical vehicle sensors, potentially leading to inaccuracies affecting vehicle performance during hazardous road weather conditions,” the city wrote in a release published April 17.

The city did not specify the exact quantity, type or placement of the sensors, nor did it outline a timeline for their installation. The city said the program would be “used at the Alliance Truck Port” — the regional trucking hub attached to the bustling air field sharing the same name.

Hundreds of millions of pounds of cargo land on and depart from the airport’s runways every year. International delivery and logistics firms, including Amazon, DHL and FedEx, set up truck depots along nearby roads to route the goods across the Metroplex and beyond.

Alliance has positioned itself as a hub for autonomous trucking in recent years. Firms specializing in driverless transportation, such as Gatik and TuSimple (which in December announced it would begin winding down operations), have operated in the zone. Trucks capable of turning, merging and cruising on their own (with the supervision of a driver) already rumble along North Texas freeways. Experts expect autonomous fleet sizes to grow in the coming decades, as technology refines and corporations cut costs.

Helping autonomous trucks better assess road conditions is essential to ensuring their safe and efficient operation, the city says. It footnoted its announcement for the sensor program with a blurb about the 133-vehicle Interstate 35W pileup in 2021 that killed six people.

“Notably, many of the 18-wheelers involved were fully loaded and headed to the Intermodal Truck Depot at Perot Field Fort Worth Alliance Airport for regional distribution,” the city wrote. “This disaster could have been avoidable if the appropriate weather sensors had been in place to warn drivers of the impending danger.”

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