Advancing Trucking Safety with LiDAR

There are many advantages to increasing the levels of autonomy in trucking. Autonomous vehicle technology provides multiple efficiency and safety benefits to the trucking industry. LiDAR technology presents the high-resolution, real-time 3D information needed to support advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

Velodyne LiDAR is working with truck manufacturers, integrators and fleet management companies which are actively engaged in the development and testing of autonomous trucking solutions. Our technology has demonstrated the performance, reliability, and scalability that are essential to navigate trucks, enhance vehicle safety and deliver the commercial volume of sensors needed in truck production.

Factors Behind Increasing Autonomy

Trucking is a robust industry. The trucking industry hauls most of the freight in the United States, accounting for 66 percent of the nation’s freight tonnage and 73 percent of freight value, according to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). The American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates freight transport in the United States will increase to 20.73 billion tons by 2028, a boost of more than 36 percent from 2017 numbers (15.18 billion tons).

(ATA) estimates freight transport in the United States will increase to 20.73 billion tons by 2028, a boost of more than 36 percent from 2017 numbers (15.18 billion tons).

The industry is vitally interested in promoting safety for trucks and the nation’s highway system. In doing so, safety is the top factor in the push towards autonomy. In 2016, there were 475,000 police-reported crashes involving large trucks in the U.S., with 3,864 of them involving fatalities. Most trucks have sizable blind spots which are exacerbated by a vehicle’s height and length, posing safety hazards.

A Class 8 truck – the largest truck size – can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. A fully loaded truck needs a much greater stopping distance than a car – almost two football fields in good conditions, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. This increases the risk of collisions.

Another industry challenge behind the push towards autonomy is workforce dynamics. The average age of a truck driver in North America is 51 and it increases every year, writes Mobility Foresights. The industry also faces a driver shortage, with ATA claiming a shortage of 38,000 drivers in 2014 that could rise to 175,000 by 2024.

According to a report commissioned by the American Center for Mobility (ACM), “due to existing truck driver worker shortages and the belief that automated technology will largely support truck drivers instead of replacing them, truck drivers are not likely to be displaced in large numbers during the next ten years that the study covered.”

“Velodyne LiDAR’s perception sensors are helping to make the driver’s environment less stressful. We do this by enabling automation of many of the most taxing and frustrating tasks a driver must manage with quickly changing traffic patterns in front and on both sides of trucks. These capabilities, which remove the most physically and mentally challenging tasks, will help the industry retain drivers, and even attract new ones, to address the growing freight volumes and increased expectation for speed that e-commerce and on-demand ordering are creating,” said Andrew Nelson, North America Commercial Vehicle Manager at Velodyne LiDAR.

Improving fuel efficiency is an additional industry priority. Diesel fuel is often the second highest expense for motor carriers after labor and can be as much as 20 percent of total operating costs, according to ATA.

All these factors are powering trucking industry interest in autonomous vehicle technologies.

Deploying Assisted Driving Capabilities

When discussing trucking’s evolution to using autonomous technologies, Chris Spear, President and CEO of ATA, said, autonomous today does not mean driverless and what the industry is talking about is driver-assist technology.

“Autonomous today does not mean driverless and what the industry is talking about is driver-assist technology.” – Chris Spear, President and CEO of ATA

Driver assistance and semi-autonomous trucks are expected to dominate the autonomous/self-driving truck market across the globe in coming years, according to Goldstein Research.

ADAS capabilities are available now for trucks. These features include adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and more. ADAS goals include making driving tasks easier for the driver and increasing truck safety by decreasing the hazards related to human driver error.

For example, according to a presentation by a Daimler Trucks North America executive at the Automated Vehicles Symposium 2018, 45 percent of braking distance depends on human perception and reaction. ADAS capabilities, such as adaptive cruise control, are considered to be able to reduce truck-related rear-end collisions, the most common type of truck-related accident, by over 70 percent, according to Roland Berger.

In discussing automated vehicle technologies, Christopher Poe, Assistant Director for Connected and Automated Transportation Strategy, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, noted, “In the near-term there is great potential for these technologies to assist commercial drivers in safely operating trucks.”

“In the near-term there is great potential for these technologies to assist commercial drivers in safely operating trucks.” – Christopher Poe, Asistant Director for Connected and Automated Transportation Strategy, Texas A&M Transportation Institute

ADAS will also allow the industry to employ platooning, which is when two or more trucks travel one behind another at a safe distance to improve fuel economy. Studies show 65 percent of current long-haul truck miles in the U.S. could potentially be platooned, which would reduce total truck fuel consumption by four percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

LiDAR is the best perception sensor for a truck and plays a key enabling role in ADAS. LiDAR sensors improve the overall perception system of a truck, due to their rich data content, robustness to a variety of environmental conditions and coverage of the largest number of corner cases during driving.

Velodyne LiDAR sensors provide a wide field of view, up to 360°, which is needed to have visibility around a truck to eliminate blind spots. This includes both horizontal and vertical fields of view that are important in addressing complicated situations. For example, having LiDAR beams pointing towards the sky can assist in alerting drivers of the clearances of upcoming overpasses and other structures.

Vertical Field of View of Velodyne VLS-128, the world’s most advanced LiDAR sensor.

Velodyne sensors cover a range of up to 300 meters to help trucks understand and react to approaching road conditions and surroundings. For instance, with a LiDAR sensor mounted on the top of a truck, the vehicle can see multiple cars in front of the truck. This enhanced visibility can enable additional reaction time – not previously available – to allow a semi-truck to stop safely in response to braking taking place several cars ahead.

In working with the trucking community, Velodyne has gained considerable knowledge about LiDAR deployment on trucks and regularly shares that information with companies. Those learnings include best practices for mounting LiDAR sensors to optimize field of view, prevent blind spots and dampen sensor exposure to vibration and shocking.

The Road to Increased Safety and Efficiency

BI Intelligence has noted, “Change to the trucking industry will be gradual but inexorable. Companies with foresight can start to make long-term plans to account for the ways that autonomous technologies will change how goods and products move from place to place.”

The time is now for the trucking industry to develop and test autonomous vehicle technology to position themselves to reap the benefits of improved efficiency and vehicle safety.

Andrew Nelson, North America Commercial Vehicle Manager at Velodyne LiDAR
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