The Autonomous Truck Corridor | by Tyler Ley

Guest Blog Post - by Tyler Ley's

Overview of the ATC

If you’ve heard me talk recently, you have probably heard me mention the ATC, or the Autonomous Truck Corridor.  This is an idea that I came up with by working with an awesome team at Oklahoma State, Penn State, and University North Carolina Charlotte.  This is an idea that has infected my brain. I can’t get it out, and so I thought I would write a blog post about it. I also have some videos I have made about the concept at the end of the post.  

The US National Highway System (NHS) is critical for the efficient transport of goods and the safety and freedom of the travelling public.  A special vehicle on the NHS is heavy freight trucks. Here are a few of the issues related to heavy freight trucks on the NHS:

It is uncomfortable for passenger vehicles to travel with freight trucks because of the large size and their high propensity for injury-related accidents.  Conflicts between passenger vehicles and trucks cause more than 4,000 fatalities and an equal amount of incapacitations every year. A surprising statistic is that 1 in 10 highway deaths involve a heavy truck [1]. The fuel for freight trucks is costly and is responsible for 7% of greenhouse gas emissions.  There is a 30% understaffing in qualified truck drivers and there is an estimated $63B per year loss due to traffic delays.  This is a huge issue for the trucking industry. These freight trucks carry more than 50% of the US Gross Domestic Product, and the traffic loadings from freight trucks are the primary input for the design calculations for all roads and bridges.  Most roadways are assumed to fail from fatigue loading. Past studies have shown that damage is increased in a roadway by the fourth power [2]. This means that if the loading of a vehicle is only increased by 10% then the damage will be nearly 50% (1.1^4 = 1.46). This means that if a truck axle is loaded to 20,000 lbs and a typical sedan is 2,000 lbs then the truck will cause 10,000x more damage. By removing these trucks from the roadways, the service life of existing pavements will be greatly extended.

Vehicle manufacturers are developing autonomous and electric trucks to address these needs but their limited haul distances and challenges interfacing with passenger vehicles have not allowed them to enter the market yet.  If these needs are addressed it would create a monumental improvement in the US economy while improving the lives of the travelling public, and reducing the impact on the environment.  

I am part of a team of engineers who have a vision for a heavy freight truck corridor with a long life that uses autonomous, continuously powered, and electric heavy freight trucks.  This corridor will be separated from passenger cars, specially designed for autonomous heavy freight trucks, and have an overhead electric power line to provide constant power. We call it the Autonomous Truck Corridor or ATC for short.  Pretty cool name right?  The ATC is a game-changer because the freight trucks can travel continuously without stopping, the vehicles can travel at higher speeds and at closer spacing, and the vehicles will be separated from passenger vehicles and so they can be autonomous. Batteries on the trucks will be charged so that they can remain powered once they leave the ATC to make local deliveries.  This corridor will be largely built using existing right of way or it can be added as major highways are expanded. This will reduce land acquisition cost, allow freight to follow existing delivery lines, and leverage existing infrastructure. This will create unbelievable economic opportunities for the US.   ​

The ATC will reduce delivery times up to 50% while reducing traffic on existing highways.  This reduction in traffic will improve diver safety and extend the life of existing roadways.  The proposed electric motors are more energy-efficient and will reduce costs and emissions by > 25% per mile.  A portion of these savings could be used to pay for the cost and maintenance of the ATC.

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