Robotic Research and FPInnovations Partner to Adapt Automated Truck Technology to New Challenging Parameters
Driverless truck technology is being adapted to double the amount of lumber a driver can transport from a harvest site to a sawmill. Motivation? A critical shortage of drivers ready for trucking jobs in remote areas of Canada.
Automated driving systems (ADS) developer Robotic Research, LLC (RR) and FPInnovations, a Canadian private non-profit research and development center that supports the forest industry, today announced their intention to develop a off-road truck platoon system for the forestry industry. This one-of-a-kind project will combine Robotic Research’s extensive experience in off-road autonomy with FPInnovations’ knowledge in forestry and related logistics. (Disclosure: I am a robotic research advisor.)
Bottom Line: Truck Platoon refers to safe close tracking (editorial) to improve fuel economy through ‘connected braking’ between trucks, made possible by low latency vehicle-to-vehicle communications. The Truck Platoon has been in active commercial development for several years, as noted in several of my previous articles on Forbes. Those who develop and demonstrate such systems include startups Locomation and Peloton, as well as truck makers Daimler, Ford-Otosan, Traton and Volvo Group.
The first generation platoon systems relied on actively involved drivers in all platoon trucks, where longitudinal control of the follower trucks was automated and the follower drivers were responsible for direction. Today the business activity is focused on second generation systems, which completely automate the driving of subsequent trucks, combining fuel economy and labor saving. Essentially, driverless tracking trucks take advantage of human intelligence in the front truck, creating a stepping stone to fully automated driving.
The peloton is complementary with solo driverless trucks, that is, in the future individual driverless trucks can “dock” to pull over each other and save additional fuel.
While several of the previously rated players were low due to the pandemic, Locomation has been very active in bringing 2nd generation platoon “autonomous relay convoy” to the market. Last year they announced an order from Wilson Logistics for more than 1,000 vehicles with deliveries starting next year.
Until now, commercial platoon systems have been designed to operate only on multi-lane, divided, and limited-access highways, as this is where the large number of users operate. The multi-year project announced today aims to “accelerate the adoption of automated off-road vehicle technology to improve safety and address a severe labor shortage, thereby improving the quality and sustainability of rural jobs where there are natural resources. ” The partners note that the development of this technology “would benefit not only Canada’s forest industry, but also other Canadian sectors such as mining and natural resources in northern Canada.” This is in line with FPInnovations’ mission: “to accelerate the growth and transformation of the forest sector, to create new market opportunities and to identify, develop and deploy innovation”. FPInnovations has research and development laboratories in Quebec City, Montreal and Vancouver.
Founded in 2002, Maryland-based Robotic Research specializes in localization, autonomy and robotic technology. Robotic research is widely active in the automated driving space, both on-road and off-road. Earlier this year, RR announced a partnership with New Flyer to develop the Xcelsior automated electric transit bus. For the FPInnovations project, RR will create unmanned convoys of Class 8 ADS trucks that will follow a driver in a lead vehicle. The announcement states that “the project will adapt existing technology to harsh Canadian conditions such as four-season weather and off-road road operations, particularly for resource roads in continental and polar climates.
“We are extremely proud to have been selected by FPInnovations and believe this project is a transformative model of how ADS can help industries, like forestry, operating in perilous conditions or facing labor shortages.” artwork. said Alberto Lacaze, President, Robotics Research. “Unmanned truck convoys work hand in hand with commercial drivers to improve their efficiency while protecting their safety.”
During Phase I, truck convoys will undergo safety tests that mimic the routes between harvest sites and sawmills. Once the system is proven successful, FPInnovations will test drive on real resource roads, known to be difficult due to dust, tight turns and steep inclines.
RR has their work cut out for them. Developers of ADS trucks looking to deploy on highways can take for granted lane markings and a smooth running surface (ish). In forestry operations, these driverless tracking trucks must handle conditions and situations such as blind turns, vehicles with heavy loads and vehicles with high centers of gravity. Additionally, FPInnovations notes that “most testing and commercial operations will take place on very rural low volume public roads,” meaning other vehicles and pedestrians may be present and should be handled safely.
“We are very pleased to partner with Robotic Research, whose leading expertise in commercial road and defense transportation will greatly benefit Canada’s natural resource sectors and help alleviate a severe labor shortage. ”Said Stéphane Renou, President and CEO of FPInnovations.
A spokesperson for FPInnovations commented on the approach and goals, noting, “We hope to start testing these types of convoys by fall 2022 on resource road environments in Canada. We aim for pre-commercial operations in 2025. The final objective of the project is to develop the technological solution required for a working prototype ready for commercial deployment. We will adapt the RR technology to a truck configuration suited to Canada’s resource needs and intend to haul logs and other material resources by the end of the program. Regarding funding, FPInnovations says “actively seek various forms of funding that will allow us to accelerate the development of the project. Funding sources include Canadian federal and provincial programs as well as private cash and in-kind contributions from key project collaborators.
The forest industry is geographically large and essential to the economies of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Russia, Sweden, and the United States, among others. The number of trucks purchased for logging operations in any given year is small compared to overall truck sales. In partnership with RR, the FPI aims to advance the platoon’s readiness for multi-year forestry.
Just as automated driving will revolutionize highway trucking, you can bet we’ll see the application of this technology in any area where driving jobs are boring, dirty, or dangerous. Even in the woods.