02.02.22  |  Insights

PlusDrive-Enabled Automated Trucks Help Reduce Fatigue and Improve Driver Retention

Autonomous Plus truck driving through city intersection

Semi-trucks equipped with the PlusDrive autonomous driving system seamlessly navigated a busy highway in Las Vegas, where the Plus team recently hosted ride-and-drives for industry analysts, investors, journalists, and logistics technology professionals attending #Manifest2022.

During one of the demos, which took place on Interstate 15, a tractor trailer swerved out of its lane directly in front of the Plus autonomy-enabled big rig. PlusDrive handled the situation safely and effortlessly — so much so that the passenger, who was responding to an email on his phone at the time, was unaware the cut-in had even occurred.

“You really understand the PlusDrive product when you experience it. Nothing can show you how well PlusDrive works until you are in the vehicle in stop-and-go traffic and you experience a cut-in and the technology handles it seamlessly. Every single person we’ve had for a demo, whether they are trucking experts or not, come away impressed with how smooth and reliable the ride is,” said Lori Heino-Royer, Head of Customer Solutions at Plus.

PlusDrive: a driver-in solution that can be installed on trucks today

PlusDrive is a commercially available driver-in autonomous driving product that is being delivered to customers today. The system is a governed application of Plus’s Level 4 autonomous driving technology, in which a driver remains behind the wheel to monitor the system.

Professional drivers retain control of the vehicle at all times, and have the option to engage the system to drive on the highway in all traffic conditions, keep the vehicle centered in its lane, make lane changes and handle merging traffic.  

Supervised autonomy as a safe provable way to achieve full autonomy

Shawn Kerrigan, Plus’s COO and co-founder, described the company’s supervised approach to rolling out autonomous big rigs during a Manifest panel discussion titled “Exploring the Reality of Autonomous Trucking.” 

PlusDrive is designed to make long-haul trucking safer, more fuel efficient and more comfortable for the driver, he said. With professional operators behind the wheel, fleets can take advantage of the operational benefits today, instead of waiting for a time when regulators allow fully autonomous trucks on public roads. Equally important: The driver-in strategy enables PlusDrive-equipped trucks to collect real-world driving experience that will eventually allow safe removal of the human operator.

​​“One of the important things is rolling out autonomous trucks in a progressive fashion and involving a lot of driver training along the way to build trust,” said Kerrigan, noting that it will “take time” to get government, industry, and the public comfortable with the idea of fully driverless trucks rolling down the road without anybody in them.

“They have to see the technology work with a driver still behind the wheel for billions of miles. You’ve got to have that really extensive experience through progressive rollout to be able to prove to everybody that this technology is really truly safer than human drivers today and it’s something we should put out on the roads.”

PlusDrive: a predictable response to unpredictable human drivers

The Plus’s demos featured two routes (both around 32 miles roundtrip) along Interstate 15, one heading northbound and other southbound. The routes were selected to provide guests with a variety of experiences showcasing the sophisticated capabilities of PlusDrive, and included curves, heavy traffic, diverging highway lanes, a variety of merge conditions, as well as segments with limited traffic allowing the truck to reach highway speeds. 

The actual ride-alongs required the Plus-enabled trucks to navigate multiple cut-ins and other potentially dangerous situations, and demonstrated how PlusDrive was able to operate the trucks safely.

During one of the runs, a taxi cab changed multiple lanes near the front of the truck, moving from two lanes to the left of the Plus big rig to three lanes to the right in order to exit the interstate. 

In another case, the Plus truck encountered stop-and-go traffic due to a crash ahead. PlusDrive brought the big rig to a full stop multiple times and restarted when the traffic started moving again. 

On that same ride, two vehicles cut in front of the Plus truck as it was beginning to slow down. One of the vehicles straddled two lanes, leading PlusDrive to decelerate from 65 miles per hour to a full stop.

Throughout the demos, the Plus drivers remained calm and at ease. “You were so relaxed!” commented one rider. PlusDrive is “a safe co-pilot,” said another passenger.

Safe and fuel efficient and comfortable

In addition to the safety features, PlusDrive optimizes driving for fuel efficiency, reducing operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Plus pilot projects conducted with leading fleets in the U.S. and China demonstrate a fuel savings of around 10%.

“The capability of PlusDrive to enhance safety and efficiency is something that everyone in the transportation industry – from truck drivers, shippers and fleet operators to regulators and lawmakers – need to be taking seriously,” said Michael Robbins, EVP of Government and Public Affairs at AUVSI.

Robbins said his test run with Plus was his first ride in an autonomous truck.

“I was impressed by how the driver was taken into account with the design of the automation to make their difficult job safer… The future of autonomy is now. We should all be applauding the safety enhancements and greenhouse gas emissions reductions driven by automation.”

Aligning autonomous policy and benefits

Wiley Deck, Plus’s VP of Government Affairs and Public Policy, echoed those sentiments, saying policy makers need to coordinate interstate AV regulations to facilitate adoption of autonomous commercial trucks.

“Right now the impediment to the full integration of AV trucks is not necessarily any legislation in federal code or regulatory structure; it’s dealing with the patchwork of states,” said Wiley, who delivered his comments during another Manifest panel discussion, “The Policy Path to Autonomy.”

“If I could wave a magic wand, Congress would mandate FMCSA to preempt those states and set a uniform policy across the states on the operation of vehicles. They already set CDL standards for human drivers; there’s no reason why they can’t do that for autonomous trucks.”

This article was originally published by FreightWaves: https://www.freightwaves.com/news/help-reduce-fatigue-and-improve-driver-retention.

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