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Self-driving semi-trucks may be part of Texas' future, says Texas A&M professor

Posted at 9:26 PM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-24 22:26:47-05

BRYAN, Texas — Texas is considered one of the largest and most prevalent states for the trucking industry. It’s here that new technologies that could change trucking forever, are being tested.

As autonomous vehicle technology continues to advance, the trucking industry is looking to implement some form of autonomy in many of its vehicles. The idea of completely driver-less semi-trucks traveling down Texas highways may seem like something out of a science fiction movie.

According to professor Srikanth Saripalli with Texas A&M’s Center for Autonomous Vehicles and Sensor Systems, a world where that’s a reality is pretty far off.

"When we say ‘autonomy,’ we have to be careful because there are levels," said Saripalli.

On a scale of zero to five, five being fully autonomous and remote operated, Saripalli stated that trucking companies aren’t getting rid of big rig drivers. Instead, they’re aiming for an autonomy level between three and four.

“Level three is when you could take your hands off the steering wheel, but still you kind of have to make sure the car or truck is doing what it’s supposed to do," he explained. "Level four is basically where you can sleep.”

Saripalli said that moving towards greater autonomy could cut down on the non-stop long-haul trips truckers have to face, as their primary job would be to get the trucks onto and off the freeways.

Richard Flores, a truck operator who’s been driving for over 24 years, spoke with KRHD at a Bryan truck stop. As to whether autonomous technology could assist drivers, Flores remains highly skeptical.

“It’s still the same thing," he commented. "You’ve got to sit in [the cab]. So I don’t see the benefit of it.”

Flores mentioned a concern that professor Saripalli has – safety when the technology is moving the vehicle through obstacles that are unexpected.

“People are not predictable, and you’ve got to watch out for all of that," Flores said.

Saripalli noted the technology is still not ready for use by American trucking companies. He believes governments need to establish strict guidelines for the trucks and their safeguards. But that doesn’t mean great advances aren’t coming down the line - maybe even fully remote operation.

“The technology is there," Saripalli said. "There are still things that need to be fixed, so I will not say that the technology is ready. But, I can definitely see that in the next five to ten years.”