The Colorado Department of Transportation has said it will deploy a self-driving truck to protect road crews from speeding vehicles by the end of this fall, potentially extending the program to cover all road maintenance if the trial is a success.
The self-driving truck will act as a “crash truck”, which moves slowly behind road crews. The trucks are currently manned by a single driver, who faces the brunt of the damage if an accident happens.
In Colorado, 21,898 crashes and 171 fatalities were reported on work zones between 2000 and 2014, according to CNN Money, highlighting the need for crash trucks and other buffers.
The self-driving truck will follow a lead vehicle further ahead via radio waves, taking notice of worker movements and other factors. The self-driving technology is developed by Kratos Defense, a supplier of autonomous vehicles for the U.S. army.
“People talk about automation and will this displace workers. Here’s a case where I think everyone will agree we want to get workers out of these trucks,” said Shailen Bhatt, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation.
One truck so far
Colorado has purchased one truck for the trial and will buy more if the trial is successful. Officials said that former drivers of crash trucks will be given other roles in the road crew.
Trucks are expected to make up a significant amount of the self-driving industry’s value, according to a report by Strategy Analytics and Intel. The business-as-a-mobility sector could be worth $3 trillion by 2050, most of the value coming from long-haul shipping, another job with a high turnover rate.