Hyundai Xcient semi truck drove itself on a 40-kilometer stretch (24.8 miles) of South Korean highway, as per to the automaker. While this was just a one-time demo, Hyundai hopes to develop and progress a fully-autonomous truck technology, which the company believes will increase efficiency and safety.
According to Hyundai, the test truck had an autonomous-driving system functioning at SAE Level 3. That meant the system could control the steering, throttle, and brakes, as well as move the vehicle through traffic, without human intervention. But Level 3 systems only allow autonomous-driving tech in specific situations, usually highway driving. During the demo, a human safety driver was on-board and ready to accept control in the event of a problem.
The test truck was armed with three front and side-rear cameras, two front and rear radar units, and three lidar units attached on the front and sides of the vehicle. A hitch-angle sensor monitored the change in angle between the tractor and trailer, which Hyundai said helps stabilize the rig during sharp turns. Data from the sensors was linked to high-definition maps, allowing the truck to position itself and make driving decisions.
The demonstration was conducted on a well-traveled stretch of highway between Uiwang and the port city of Incheon. Hyundai said this route sees a lot of traffic on a consistent basis from trucks transporting cars and other locally-manufactured goods to Incheon for export. The Xcient semitruck, which has a cargo volume of 40 tons, traveled the 24.8-mile route in one hour, according to Hyundai, while “abiding strictly” to the 90 kph (55.9 mph) speed limit.
Hyundai expects to put trucks with a superior degree of autonomous-driving tech capabilities on the road by the 2020s. The company is one of numerous interesting in “platooning,” an industry term for functioning a convoy of autonomous trucks together, with trailing trucks taking their cues from a lead vehicle. Hyundai is also functioning on autonomous technology in passenger cars, most newly conducting a demonstration run of prototype vehicles between Seoul and Pyeongchang throughout the 2018 Winter Olympics.
But it’s unclear how soon autonomous trucks will arrive in large numbers, or what human truck drivers will do for work when that happens.
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