Auburn University, TARDEC conduct live truck platooning demo

Auburn University recently joined the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, to conduct a live demonstration of autonomous vehicle technology traveling across the border between the U.S. and Canada. The capabilities of truck platoons were showcased traveling down Interstate 69, going east across the Blue Water Bridge connecting Port Huron with Ontario before returning to the U.S. The demonstration was conducted in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

"Auburn University and TARDEC researchers are advancing this technology to the point where it is ready for commercial and military uses," said David Bevly, director of Auburn University's GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory and professor of mechanical engineering. "Today's live demonstration under real-world traffic conditions highlights just how far this paradigm changing technology has come."

Auburn's two Peterbilt 579 trucks led the mixed convoy of commercial and military trucks using platooning software that Bevly's research group developed and implemented throughout the convoy. Auburn's work on GPS and radar sensor fusion also allowed the convoy to maintain a set distance between each truck.

"We are proud to contribute key technology and expertise to this groundbreaking demonstration as part of our longstanding partnership with TARDEC," said Chris Roberts, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering at Auburn University. "The important work Dr. Bevly and his autonomous vehicle research development team are engaged in with TARDEC will go a long way toward bringing this exciting, life-saving technology to commercial and military application."

The Army's vehicles in the convoy, two M915 line-haul tractors carrying flatbed trailers loaded with cargo containers, are each equipped with TARDEC's Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System technology which enables a full range of capabilities, from driver-warning features to fully-autonomous operation, which can move the vehicle along a path using pre-programmed waypoints.

"Driverless capabilities can do so much for our soldiers and their missions," said Bernie Theisen, project manager for TARDEC's leader-follower program. "We can move soldiers out of the convoy trucks and into missions where they're uniquely suited, and this technology can significantly increase the safety for those soldiers who do continue to operate the convoys."

On display during this demonstration were the vehicle's automated acceleration and deceleration features, which allow the vehicle to adjust its speed and braking with respect to instructions passed back to it from the lead vehicle.

Additionally, the Army's trucks are enabling the automated steering feature. With this capability, the truck's computer receives information from the lead vehicles and steers the truck accordingly. This is the first time the Army has tested this capability on a public roadway, Theisen noted. 

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