Peterbilt showed off the "hands free" capability of its Model 579 autonomous truck at the Texas Motor Speedway.
The GPS navigation system "antenna" is seen at the top of the tractor's sleeper berth in this photo. Cloudy days and poor weather canimpede or even negate the vehicle's ability to drive itself, noted Kahn.
The key to autonomous trucks is a preprogrammed route, says Kahn. If it knows where it is going and has an extremely precise map to follow -- along with clearly delineated road markings -- the truck can drive itself.
Once out on the truck, with the touch of a "green button," this Model 579 piloted itself with the driver's hands completely off the steering wheel.
Peterbilt used the twists and turns of the Texas Motor Speedway infield to demonstrated how a large truck can maneuver itself on "complex" urban roadways safely as long as it has precise mapping information. Kahn added that GPS navigation can only be used in low-speed truck operations.
Once the truck began the final leg of its journey around the track, the driver would again click the "green button" to retake control of the vehicle.
Other components critical for creating an autonomous truck include a fully automatic or automated manual transmission (AMT) along with a small electric motor to control the steering wheel; what Kahn called a "torque-overlay steering column."
Kahn noted that Peterbilt's research with autonomous systems indicates that trucks can safely drive themselves about 80% to 90% of the time on highways and in urban settings.
Kahn added that LIDAR pulsed laser radar systems, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, allows this truck to measure variable distances between itself and other vehicles. The Model 579 autonomous truck uses a combination of short- and long-range LIDAR systems mounted in the middle of the front bumper and on the corners so it can navigate on its own.