A 370km on-road automated truck trial shares positive findings

A Transurban-led automated truck trial has given early indications of the potential for automated freight vehicles to operate successfully on Australian roads.

Automated trucks are emerging worldwide as a future freight transport solution, with on-road automated heavy-vehicle pilots underway in the United States and Europe.

For the first time in Australia, a highly automated truck (a truck designed to drive without driver input) was road-tested in live-traffic conditions on public motorways in the trial.

The trial results suggest well-instrumented managed motorways with mid-to-high freight volumes will be ideal for early automated truck deployments.

“These roadways have enough freight demand to attract automated truck operators and enough instrumentation to generate infrastructure data to support the automated trucks,” the report suggests.

This trial was also the first time the Transurban team tested the benefits of sharing data from roadside technologies such as road sensors and speed-limit signage with a truck’s automated driving system, the technology that drives the truck.

“A key focus of this trial was exploring the potential for infrastructure-to-vehicle (I2V) data to support a truck’s ADS. This included identifying scenarios the trial ADS found challenging, and testing how sharing our infrastructure data with the ADS could address these challenges,” the report notes.

“Our trial findings suggest I2V communication is feasible and has the potential to be highly beneficial in deploying automated trucks on highly instrumented, managed motorways in Australia.”

The on-road trial ran in Melbourne over seven nights in November and December 2022, with the truck operating in a dedicated lane.

Safety drivers were aboard the automated truck throughout the trial’s operations. Drivers supervised the truck’s automated operations (for example, monitoring the truck’s lane positioning and speed-limit compliance), and taking back control of the vehicle in line with defined safety protocols.

Of more than 370km travelled in ADS mode, 92 per cent of travel was completed in automated mode.

“The automated truck consistently performed as expected and the ADS safely handled the specific driving tasks we gave it,” the report states.

“No safety incidents occurred at any stage of the trial. Data captured across the seven trials showed the ADS successfully navigated multiple operating environments, including:

  • travelling in a dedicated lane alongside live traffic on a public motorway
  • navigating the full extent of both the Domain and Burnley tunnels
  • performing lane changes in mixed traffic conditions, including multiple instances where the automated truck waited for other road users to pass before merging.”

The truck used in the trial was a left-hand drive modified Hino 700 SH 4×2 tractor with built-in heavy-duty capability for towing a trailer with a shipping container.

Key findings

The trial learnings suggest that managed motorways in urban environments could be suitable locations for the eventual introduction of automated freight operations in Australia.

“When operating on a new corridor, road-surface conditions matter to the ADS and can impede performance. For optimal performance, sensors must be calibrated to accommodate applicable road conditions,” the report states.

“Our dynamic dedicated lane and I2V communication platform both yielded encouraging results – giving early indications of how we might best leverage the unique capabilities of our roads to support safety when operating highly automated trucks.

“Automated trucks can contribute to more efficient handling of the growing freight task in our cities. We will use our findings in exploring, with government and industry, possible approaches for safely introducing automated trucks onto our roads,” the report concludes.

Quick facts on trial components:

  • 1 truck kitted out with an automated driving system
  • 3 safety drivers fully trained to operate the ADS
  • 4 weeks proving ground testing and validation
  • 4 weeks trial comprising 7 on-road ADS sessions
  • +370km driven by ADS, largely at 80km/h
  • 1 dedicated operator in Transurban’s traffic control room

Click here to download a copy of the report.

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