Make your home page

INDOT to study automated driving of trucks on I-70 east of Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A day is likely coming where cars and even trucks will drive themselves down the highway with no human driver behind the wheel.

The day is here to start testing that technology.

Indiana Department of Transportation is sharing almost $9 million to do an assessment of automated driving along Interstate 70 in the eastern portion of the state.

INDOT said no truck in this initial phase will be without a driver. The goal of the federal grant is to figure out exactly what is needed to make truck automation possible on the interstates and see how trucks perform in a variety of conditions.

While officials say it’s the perfect place to do testing, many drivers don’t like the idea of automated driving.

“Even in the future, I’m not comfortable with that,” said Sonia Neely.

Cindy Kaps is a truck driver with 33 years of experience. “I’m concerned. Yes, I am.”

Drivers along I-70 Tuesday were not comforted with the thought of just as many trucks on the road but fewer drivers.

But in the future, video provided by Purdue University shows likely how it will work. One human truck driver will lead a platoon of trucks and use technology to connect with trailing trailers.

Scott Manning, INDOT strategic communications director, said the start of automated driving might be closer than most people think.

“It could be something that conceivably within the next decade we move much farther in that direction,” he said.

The federal grant amounts to $4.4 million, which is more than matched with another $4.5 million in funds from partners. The grant aims to determine what is needed to make truck automation a reality, not just on this segment between Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, where the testing will occur, but across the country.

“As a DOT, we want to make sure that trucks using this type of technology are at a level of performance that they can navigate safely and have the same responsiveness to roadway hazards or roadway concerns or changing conditions that we all do as human drivers,” Manning said. “That is why this type of testing is so important.”

The testing will include connectivity, pavement conditions and weather conditions.

“Indiana is really an ideal place to test a lot of automotive and transportation technology because we have four very distinct seasons,” Manning said.

Andrew Denslow is among some truck drivers who have their doubts. “I don’t think I’ll see it in my lifetime at least.”

Denslow also points to the expense of the technology, the unpredictability of other drivers, and bad weather.

“You’ve got a trailer back there that sometimes has a mind of its own,” Denslow said. “You’re pretty much driving an 80,000-pound wrecking machine down the road.”

While taking the human factor out could be good for some things — faster reaction times, for example — Neely and Kaps say it makes them uncomfortable.

“I don’t trust the computer,” Neely said. “Doesn’t make me feel comfortable. I prefer to see a driver behind the wheel.”

“You’re taught when you’re driving a truck when you start, if a deer runs out in front of you, take it head on, you don’t swerve,” Kaps said. “You don’t try to miss it. That truck is going to try to stop and it’s going to cause an accident.”

Testing is likely to begin early next year and will last for three years.

INDOT is sharing this grant with several other entities including the Ohio Department of Transportation.