HARRISBURG – The truck is large, shiny and blue with big tires.
It has safety equipment.
It has a message sign.
It has a big bumper in the back.
But it’s what the truck doesn’t have that turned heads Tuesday afternoon.
“This is technology that not everyone has seen and touched,” PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards said during a demonstration of an autonomous truck that could be used in a work safety zone.
Several lawmakers watched the demonstration along with ABC27. Richards even got to sit in the driver’s seat, though she was only a passenger.
“What’s happening now is it’s taking over the steering,” explained an official with Royal Trucking and Equipment, the truck’s manufacturer. “If you can see down to the brake and the gas, it’s controlling the brake pedal.”
This truck will be at the tail end of a construction work zone controlled by the truck in the front. The manufacturer insists it won’t veer into speeding traffic on the highway.
“The lead truck will drive down the road and this truck will mimic it within four inches,” said Andrew Roberts, Royal’s spokesman.
“So there’s lane accuracy driving down the road. The drivers don’t have to have any fear of this truck driving out of its lane.”
Actually, this automated truck was built because it’s the humans who are more likely to veer.
“If somebody does enter the work zone because they’re a distracted driver, they don’t plow over and kill people,” Roberts said. “They run into the tail end of this truck, which is meant to absorb the crash and the kinetic energy from that crash.”
It’s best that a truck that was built to be hit not have a human at the wheel.
“We want everyone who comes to work every single day in Pennsylvania to go home safely to their families,” Richards said.
Officials say three accidents a month happen in Pennsylvania construction zones. But autonomous trucks are stuck in park pending state legislation to give them the green light.
State Rep. Greg Rothman’s bill would allow them on the road now and possibly do much more in the future.
“Can you imagine having line painters and snow plows and cutting the grass in the median all in autonomous vehicles? Think of the money we can save and the safety, too,” Rothman said.
There are only three of these specific types of trucks in the world, the manufacturer said. One in London, one in Colorado and the one on display in Pennsylvania. At $350,000 apiece, they aren’t cheap.
Royal Trucking is a Pennsylvania company. It’s headquartered in the Lehigh Valley.