VTTI's Ford F-150 hybrid pickup truck, pictured hered, truck operates a Level 4 automated driving system. - Photo: Virginia Tech Transportation Institute

VTTI's Ford F-150 hybrid pickup truck, pictured hered, truck operates a Level 4 automated driving system. 

Photo: Virginia Tech Transportation Institute

Researchers for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) recently put an autonomous Ford F-150 hybrid truck through a series of tests related to public safety on a busy Virginia highway.

About the Tech and Research

The demonstration was funded partly by a U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration grant. Since 2019, the team has worked with its collaborators to both develop the project parameters and outfit the truck with technology that can require as much as 120 amps to operate.

Researchers have been working for four years to develop responses for autonomous vehicles to various scenarios.

Over time, the autonomous technology on the vehicle will learn to adapt to these kinds of incidents based on experience gained through the scenarios.

The truck operates a Level 4 automated driving system (ADS). That means that within "a certain spectrum of operational designs" including the roadway type and weather conditions, the vehicle should be able to operate itself without the expectation of a driver taking over, VTTI Division Director of Technology Implementation Mike Mollenhauer said in a Virginia Tech news article.

As an officer approaches the vehicle, they will see a computer interface on the truck's window to allow them to interact with the vehicle. Officers can use that to view the vehicle registration, inspect the vehicle, contact a fleet manager and talk to a human to help resolve issues, and more.

Testing the Autonomous Tech

The truck was tasked with navigating 18 different situations, including interacting with roadside workers, first responders, and other drivers. The parameters for the trials were developed in partnership with:

  • Virginia Department of Transportation.
  • Crash Avoidance Metrics Partners LLC, a consortium of vehicle manufacturers consisting of Ford, GM, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan.
  • Transurban North America, a global toll road company that oversees the Virginia area Interstate 495, 95, and 395 express lanes and incorporates smart technology in roadways.

In addition to traffic stops, other scenarios tested included:

  • Response to manual traffic control.
  • Cooperative Driving Automation.
  • Navigating temporary work zones.
  • Reactions to emergency vehicles.
  • Fleet management support.

The goal of projects like this is to take the 'ominous out of autonomous,' said Joe McLaine, safety engineer for GM and chairman of Crash Avoidance Metrics Partners LLC.

McLaine said it's important for first responders like law enforcement officers to realize they will be interacting with vehicles like this in the not-too-distant future.

While the project has made good progress, McLaine said it has also revealed a number of unanswered questions related to public safety and autonomous vehicles. VTTI plans to continue its work through additional research and expanding on some of the capabilities it has already developed by including first responders in the process.

Originally posted on Government Fleet

About the author
Christy Grimes

Christy Grimes

Senior Editor

Christy Grimes is a Senior Editor at Bobit, working on Automotive Fleet and Government Fleet publications. She has also written for School Bus Fleet.

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