Nations first deployment of driverless crash impact protection vehicles in highway maintenance operations
IV creates a virtual world in which to model projects accurately in 3D, then render videos and images as well as immersive visualizations to create interactive simulation products. IV models are built from existing and proposed data, including agency design files (i.e., a Microstation roadway surface), while a game engine powers real-time presentation. When optimized with adjacent infrastructure to produce performance simulation, touch screen kiosks and virtual reality (VR) applications can provide a virtual helicopter tour over a proposed project, for instance.
Project NEON, Nevada's largest and most expensive public works project ever, was the catalyst for the initiative. IV helped convey complex planning and design scenarios to the public while helping project development personnel identify and resolve design and construction challenges, such as site impacts and right of way, geometric, and line-of-sight issues. IV products allowed the traveling public, homeowners, and businesses to see the potential impact of the project on their interests, while addressing their concerns and those of regulatory agencies about safety and environmental impact. As a result, IV vastly enhanced interagency coordination, regulatory review, and approval.
IV supplies much more freedom of camera movement than typical state-of-the-practice project visualizations, which provide views from specific angles. That enables non-outreach products like technical clarity visuals, graphics for related legal cases, landscaping details, and more. While conventional visualizations render various images for delivery via video files from which models are constructed for a given purpose, rapid, real time rendering through IV’s game engine technology eliminates the need to remodel, bringing its overall cost in line with traditional 3D visualization.
Work zone safety is very important. To increase work zone safety highway operations use impact protection vehicles to protect workers and drivers from costly impacts. In current operations a highway worker is driving the impact protection vehicle to shadow a work zone. The shadow vehicle is designed to absorb an impact from an errant car or truck at highway speeds. The use of truck-mounted attenuators (TMA) in work zones and maintenance operations is common practice. These devices, which are attached to the back of work vehicles, are designed to absorb the impact from rear-end collisions. These TMAs save lives and property damage but still hold a significant risk of injury. The Colorado Department of Transportation has deployed two
driverless impact protection vehicles in highway paint operations to increase worker safety. Technological advancements allow TMA operations without a human driver!
In 2017, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Division of Maintenance and Operations embarked on a program to remove the human operator from these TMA vehicles. The Autonomous Truck-Mounted Attenuator (ATMA) program at CDOT has retrofitted two TMA vehicles in their fleet with automated driving system technology. The vehicles are used to shadow the paint striping operation and the crews have logged over 100 miles and increasing every day in autonomous mode.
The leader vehicle is a truck operated by a human driver and the follower or "trail" vehicle is the autonomous driverless truck mounted attenuator. The ATMA follows or replicates the leader's driving maneuvers. The leader vehicle is continuously transmitting highly accurate speed, position, and heading information to the follower so that the follower can replicate the leader's path while maintaining a specified gap distance (set by the human operator). Radar and other sensors on the front and side of the follower vehicle provide obstacle detection capabilities and may stop the follower vehicle if an object is detected in the vehicle's intended path. Emergency stop buttons in the lead vehicle provide a method to stop the follower, and push buttons on the exterior of the follower vehicle provide a method of stopping and shutting the vehicle down in case of emergency.
The practice of innovation has been supported by the ATMA pool fund made up of 14 states to help other DOT's with deployment. Significant effort has been made to support the deployment of this technology by working together to solve a range of issues. Some states aren't legislatively able to deploy the driverless technology, other states have started pilot programs, other states are working through procurement hurdles, other states are developing operating procedures and other states are developing training and other states are already using the ATMA in highway operations.
Assistant Director of Mobility Technologies
Colorado Department of Transportation
Tyler Weldon, P.E.
State Maintenance Engineer
Colorado Department of Transportation