Peterbilt showed off its take on autonomous vehicle technologies to reporters Friday during a Technology Showcase at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Bill Kahn, manager of advanced concepts at Peterbilt, doesn't really like to call the two demonstration vehicles "autonomous," although they would qualify as a Level 3 autonomous vehicle under National Highway Traffic Safety Administration classifications. He characterizes the technology more as the "cruise control of the future" and a "stepping stone to autonomous vehicles." Peterbilt engineers have dubbed it "advanced driver assist systems."

One of Peterbilt's two demonstration trucks testing autonomous technologies. Photo: Deborah Lockridge

One of Peterbilt's two demonstration trucks testing autonomous technologies. Photo: Deborah Lockridge

A bumper-mounted radar system, on one of the trucks, and a lidar camera on the other, are used to determine the distance from the truck to the vehicle or obstacle ahead of it. The lidar has the added advantage of not only being able to determine an obstacle ahead, but also a wider field of "view" and the ability to provide some data on the size and shape of whatever's there. For on-highway situations, these and a windshield-mounted camera provide data to keep the truck in the lane as the truck steers itself. Kahn said this lanekeeping technology is capable of taking 85% of the active steering out of the driver's hands, leaving him much more refreshed.

Kahn characterized lanekeeping as a form of advanced cruise control, and noted that just as any cruise control, you wouldn't use it in bad weather or congested traffic.

Note the bumper-mounted radar system. Photo: Deborah Lockridge

Note the bumper-mounted radar system. Photo: Deborah Lockridge

The radar/lidar is also used for adaptive cruise, which can keep the truck the right distance from the vehicle in front of it and bring it to a complete stop if necessary.

In addition, the concept trucks featured a GPS-based autopilot system that would allow the truck to operate autonomously in urban environments – but only if the route was preprogrammed.

The GPS system is accurate up to 5 centimeters. One truck can drive the route (with a human driver) and "map" it, then transfer that data to other trucks in the fleet. The other trucks then follow that preprogrammed course; driver intervention would be needed in some situations.

In the case of platooning, that information transfer between the front truck and the ones behind would happen in real time.

So far, testing of the GPS system has all been done on non-public courses set up to mimic city streets.

The trucks have Dedicated Short Range Communications, or DSRC, radio antennas, a vehicle-to-vehicle communication system. DRSC is similar to Wi-Fi, but is not likely to be vulnerable to interference, and is an important part of the federal government's plans for "connected vehicles." 

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