First on News 2: Driverless roadside safety vehicles undergo testing in Tennessee

Local News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Driverless attenuators are a new type of technology to Tennessee that residents could soon see on the roads.

TDOT and the University of Tennessee Knoxville are testing out the new technology this week and News 2 got a first look during a test run at TDOT’s test track in Dickson.

Put to the test were two trucks.

They were driving at the same speed, same direction, making the same sharp turns, but there was one big difference – The second truck had no driver in sight.

“If you can imagine picking up breadcrumbs,” said Maynard Factor, Director of Business Development at Kratos Defense. “Whatever the lead vehicle does, the unmanned vehicles follows.”

The new technology for Tennessee is called an Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle made by Florida-based company Kratos Defense.

Factor said the vehicle serves as a mobile crash barrier.

“The way it works, now is a person has to drive that vehicle which is very dangerous,” said Factor. “With us being able to take the driver out of the vehicle, we significantly increase the safety in the work zone and eliminate the dangerous assignment.”

So far this year, TDOT reports 160 vehicle crashes on the side of the road statewide.

TDOT Director of Safety Jay Norris said it’s a risk TDOT’s 2,000 roadside workers face every single day.

“This is very important because we’re potentially taking a worker out of a vehicle that could be struck,” said Norris.

What directs the attenuator is GPS technology, the gap between the two trucks in most cases is about 225 feet.

“The distance is based on kinetic energy,” said Norris. “We plan for our worse case scenarios, which would be a tractor-trailer.”

Researcher Airton Kohls from UT Knoxville is helping the university study the efficacy of the technology.

The university put together 27 different cases, 94 different runs to test the attenuator, looking for its accuracy and deviation from the lead vehicle.

Norris said testing will continue through the end of the week.

UT Knoxville will then compile the data into a study for TDOT to determine the next steps.

Norris said we could see the autonomous attenuators on Tennessee’s roads in the next few years.

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