Colorado is putting a moving barrier between its highway workers and the cars whizzing past them.
The Colorado Department of Transportation unveiled its first Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle (AIPV), a self-driving vehicle that increases work zone safety by removing the driver from a truck that is designed to be hit.
Crash protection vehicles are generally large lumbering garbage-truck-like vehicles equipped with bright yellow crash bumpers. They function as moving barriers to keep workers on the other side of them safe from careening cars. The AIPV, developed by Royal Truck & Equipment along with Kratos Defense and Security Solutions and Colas UK, takes the driver out of the truck, which is equipped with autonomous vehicle technology. The AIPVs are connected electronically to the human-driven lead truck. The autonomous system is accurate to within four inches, said DOT officials.
“Here we are today launching the world’s first self-driving work-zone vision,” said Rob Roy, president of Pennsylvania-based Royal Truck & Equipment, maker of the crash-protection vehicle, speaking at a Colorado DOT event in Fort Collins on Friday.
Highway work zones have proven to be dangerous areas and prone to vehicle accidents, say officials. In fact, between 2000 and 2014, Colorado experienced 21,898 crashes and 171 fatalities in work zones. According to the Federal Highway Administration, in work zones in 2015, there was a crash every 5.4 minutes, 70 crash-related injuries every day, and 12 crash-related fatalities every week. The Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle is the world’s first work zone vehicle to use self-driving technology to remove a driver from one of the most dangerous work zone jobs and greatly improve safety for mobile work crews.
Having a driver in the seat of the truck following a work crew “is considered to be the most dangerous job in the industry,” said Roy.
Which is why developing a system that removes this worker reduces the chance of the kinds of injuries that can happen when a car smashes into the rear of the vehicle.
“Here’s a technology where not having hands on the wheel better protects the workers,” said Martin Knopp, associate administrator for operations with the Federal Highway Administration, speaking at the press conference which Colorado DOT streamed live via Facebook.
So far, Colorado DOT has only one of the Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicles, but the agency plans to aquire more, said Meghan Dougherty, a spokeswoman for CDOT.
"These are jobs that we actually do want to get people out of,” said Shailen Bhatt, CDOT executive director.
“Just in the last four years, there have been 26 incidents where a member of the traveling public struck a CDOT impact protection vehicle — that’s almost seven per year,” said Bhatt, in a statement. “This is a dangerously high number when you consider that in some instances, a CDOT employee is sitting in the driver’s seat of the vehicle that was hit. By using self-driving technology, we’re able to take the driver out of harm’s way while still effectively shielding roadside workers.”
Officials praised the co-mingling of innovation and technology toward improving the saftety of workers on the highway.
“We have many tools in the toolbox. We didn’t invent them all. We didn’t invent maybe the majority,” said Knopp. “We work together with areas that are inventing them — public or private. And so, when we look here, the Colorado DOT represents a fantastic great example of how powerful tools like technology and innovation can be.”
“It’s exciting. It’s cool. Everyone’s very excited about connected and autonomous vehicle technologies,” echoed Bhatt. “My prediction is in the future, all state DOTs here in the country and even internationally will be using technology like this.”