New pol­icy boosts self-driv­ing semis

Houston Chronicle - - LIFE TRIBUTES | BUSINESS -

U.S. Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment has given a boost to com­pa­nies work­ing on au­to­mated long­haul trucks, say­ing an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence sys­tem could con­sti­tute a “driver” un­der fed­eral truck­ing rules in a bid to ease bar­ri­ers to the tech­nol­ogy.

The Fed­eral Mo­tor Car­rier Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion will no longer as­sume that a com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle driver is hu­man, ac­cord­ing to the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment’s Au­to­mated Ve­hi­cles 3.0 guid­ance re­leased Thurs­day. That is an ini­tial step to al­low trucks to travel across state lines pi­loted by an au­ton­o­mous driv­ing sys­tem. The safety reg­u­la­tor also sig­naled a will­ing­ness to over­rule states stand­ing in the way of self-driv­ing trucks and is study­ing how to amend ex­ist­ing rules to bet­ter ac­com­mo­date self-driv­ing sys­tems.

Long-haul truck­ing, with its hours of cruis­ing in rel­a­tively sim­ple high­way en­vi­ron­ments, is seen as a key op­por­tu­nity to de­ploy au­to­mated driv­ing tech­nolo­gies. Ma­jor truck man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Daim­ler AG and Pac­car Inc. are work­ing on au­to­mated driv­ing sys­tems for com­mer­cial trucks. The field has also at­tracted sev­eral star­tups, such as In­tel Corp.-backed Pelo­ton Tech­nol­ogy Inc., which has cre­ated tech­nol­ogy to help au­to­mated trucks safely travel in tight pla­toons.

At an event an­nounc­ing the new pol­icy, FMCSA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Ray Mar­tinez said au­to­mated truck­ing tech­nolo­gies have the po­ten­tial to save thou­sands of lives and ben­e­fit the econ­omy.

“The FMCSA is ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing the cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion re­quired to pro­mote au­to­mated driv­ing sys­tem, in­clud­ing the re­form of reg­u­la­tions that may unThe nec­es­sar­ily hin­der progress,” Mar­tinez said.

In a 2016 test by Uber Tech­nolo­gies Inc.’s Otto unit and An­heuser-Busch InBev, an 18-wheeler with no­body be­hind the wheel cruised more than 120 miles to de­liver a load of beer. At the time, AB InBev said it could save $50 mil­lion a year in the U.S. if the bev­er­age gi­ant could de­ploy au­ton­o­mous trucks across its dis­tri­bu­tion net­work.

The truck­ing in­dus­try’s main trade as­so­ci­a­tion praised the up­dated pol­icy. “This is a sound and sub­stan­tive frame­work that rightly rec­og­nizes com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles are es­sen­tial to any se­ri­ous AV pol­icy,” Chris Spear, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tions, said in a state­ment.

The pol­icy al­lows the depart­ment to over­rule state or lo­cal re­quire­ments that in­ter­fere with fed­eral truck­ing reg­u­la­tions, ad­dress­ing a con­cern of the truck­ing in­dus­try: that state and lo­cal au­to­mated ve­hi­cle rules may pro­hibit self-driv­ing big-rigs from cross­ing state lines, a fact of life in long-haul truck­ing.

The FMSCA’s new in­ter­pre­ta­tion fol­lows a sim­i­lar move by the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2016, when it told Google of­fi­cials the agency would view the com­pany’s au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy as a driver un­der fed­eral auto-safety stan­dards.

Other sur­face trans­porta­tion agen­cies within the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment will adopt a sim­i­lar stance as part of the third it­er­a­tion of the depart­ment’s au­to­mated-ve­hi­cle pol­icy guid­ance. The up­date for the first time ad­dresses au­toma­tion in all modes of sur­face trans­porta­tion, in­clud­ing long-haul trucks, tran­sit and rail, in ad­di­tion to pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles cov­ered by pre­vi­ous doc­u­ments.

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