Autonomous trucks have gained ground lately, as the complexity of long-haul highway driving poses less of a challenge than urban traffic for passenger vehicles. Locomation today announced the successful completion of its first on-road pilot program transporting commercial freight. The pilot is the result of a partnership with Wilson Logistics. Both companies said It is a significant step toward autonomous trucking.
Locomation claims that its trucking technology is the first to combine autonomous driving with driver augmentation. Veterans from Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center launched the company in 2018. Pittsburgh-based Locomation said its staff includes experts in robotics technology, safety, and artificial intelligence. It raised $5.5 million in seed funding in June.
Springfield, Mo.-based Wilson Logistics is a family-owned and operated organization that began as Wil-Trans in 1990. Through the acquisitions of Jim Palmer Trucking in 2014, O&S Trucking in 2016, RJs Transportation in early-2017, Haney Truck Line in late-2017, and Market Transport in 2019, Wilson Logistics was formed.
Locomation creates autonomous convoys
The core technology of Locomation is its Autonomous Relay Convoy (ARCTM), in which one driver pilots a lead truck with technology augmentation, while an autonomous truck follows in tandem. This proprietary system allows the driver in the second vehicle to rest, said the company. Locomation added that each ARCTM segment is engineered for maximum yield and utilization by its business operations team.
Locomation and Wilson Logistics first announced their trial at the Truckload Carriers Association annual conference in March. Two Locomation trucks hauling Wilson Logistics trailers and freight were deployed as an ARCTM on a 420-mi. route that stretched from Portland, Ore., to Nampa, Ind., along I-84. That stretch of interstate highway has some of the most challenging road conditions in terms of curvatures, grades, and wind gusts, according to the companies.
“The successful kickoff of this commercial agreement with Wilson Logistics is a significant milestone for our teams,” statad Dr. Çetin Meriçli, co-founder and CEO Locomation. “Despite the threat of COVID-19, we delivered real-world results for the most advanced, efficient, and safest solution to make commercial autonomous trucking a reality. Most importantly, the pilot strongly proved that our autonomous technology can be integrated seamlessly and deployed within a real trucking operation in a sustained fashion.”
Having seen the route for the first time during the initial, eight-day long pilot phase, Locomotion’s ARCTM covered approximately 3,400 miles and operated autonomously roughly half of the time, delivering 14 commercial loads.
At all times during the pilot, each truck was staffed with a trained driver and a safety engineer tasked with monitoring vehicle and AV system performance, collecting more than two-dozen key performance indicators vital to ensuring the successful deployment of this autonomous vehicle technology.
Full commercialization coming down the road
“This test pilot was critical for Wilson Logistics because it proved the true commercial viability of Locomation’s ARCTM technology,” explained Darrel Wilson, chairman and CEO of Wilson Logistics. “For our team, it’s the perfect combination of safety improvements, increased asset utilization, reduced cost per mile — and most importantly, a better driver experience.”
At full commercialization, Locomation’s autonomous vehicle technology is expected to produce an estimated 30% reduction in operating cost per mile, including 8% reduction in fuel consumption. Such operations could also remove over 40 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air per convoy annually, it said.
Wilson Logistics risk management consultancy Aon also participated in the pilot program in order to assess a range of metrics related to safety.
“We congratulate Wilson Logistics and Locomation on a successful initial test phase,” said Mark Brockinton, CEO of Aon’s Transportation and Logistics Practice. “We are thrilled with the performance of the pilot and its safe, on-time deliveries each day. We think Locomation’s platform points to a future for freight carriers where risk factors related to accident and loss are significantly lower.”
The Locomation-Wilson Logistics agreement will initially operate more than 124 ARCTM-equipped tractors in two-truck convoys on 11 ARCTM segments throughout the U.S. at peak implementation. The next phase in the partnership will include the delivery of more than 1,000 two-truck convoys representing more than 2,000 ARC-equipped trucks operating on more than 68 ARCTM segments nationwide.