The Virginia Port Authority has been awarded a $2.1 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration to develop a proof of concept using an autonomous truck to access terminals and deliver and receive containers.
The grant is part of a larger funding package approved by FHWA in late December 2020, which awarded Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment (ATCMTD) grants valued at $49.6 million to 10 projects using advanced intelligent transportation systems technologies that will improve mobility and safety and support vehicle connectivity. “This $49.6 million in grant funding will support innovative solutions to improve connectivity and help prepare America’s transportation systems for the future,” said then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
“This grant will help drive our initiative to establish the building blocks to make The Port of Virginia the first terminal in North America that is prepared to service the next generation of high-technology, over-the-road trucks,” said John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “The extensive technology already integrated into our terminals uniquely qualifies us [Virginia] to take a leadership role that will shape the vision of how marine terminals will handle the exchange of containers between semi-automated terminal equipment and intelligent over-the-road vehicles. This industry is evolving and our goal to be at the forefront of change and innovation to help us deliver efficiency, customer service and sustainability.”
The story was picked by a local news outlet, which reported on concerns by truck drivers serving the port that their jobs would soon be replaced by self-driving trucks.
However, Joseph Harris, a media spokesperson for the Virginia Port Authority, told HDT that it would be “years and years” before autonomous trucks are working in the port.
“This grant money will allow the Port of Virginia to begin looking at what this technology could one day do for our operations and efficiency,” Harris said. “So, this is really about giving the port the means to look at autonomous trucks from a proof-of-concept standpoint. Our goal is to begin understanding now what will be required from an operational and infrastructure standpoint to deploy these trucks. We don’t want the technology to become available and be caught unprepared. We want to be ready when autonomous trucks are, so that we understand how to deploy them in a way that provides efficiencies to our operations, our customers and our partners. But, again, we are currently looking at that timeline in terms of several years.”