Colorado deploys driverless truck that’s meant to absorb crashing cars

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo
An autonomous impact-protection vehicle being tested by CDOT. (Courtesy CDOT, CIG)

An autonomous impact-protection vehicle being tested by CDOT. (Courtesy CDOT, CIG)

The Colorado Department of Transportation is testing an autonomous vehicle in Fort Collins today that could replace one of the most dangerous jobs on the highway.

The self-driving “crash cushion” is meant to keep traffic away from humans who are working along the road.

In today’s scheduled demonstration, humans were to work from one moving truck to lay a stripe of paint, while the autonomous truck would follow along behind, shielding the human crew from the rush of traffic, according to CDOT.

If an errant driver doesn’t notice the slow-moving work vehicles, the hope is that they would hit the autonomous vehicle, which is mounted with equipment that can more safely absorb crashes.

In other words, this new truck acts as a giant robotic shield. Governments already use impact-absorbing trucks, but this is the first live test of an autonomous one, Wired reported. CDOT is testing the truck as part of its RoadX innovation effort.

After the test, the vehicle is expected to become a regular part of CDOT’s fleet. The agency may add more later.

Drivers have struck work-zone vehicles 26 times in the last four years in Colorado, according to CDOT. From 2000 to 2014, 171 people died in work-zone crashes.

The truck was made by Royal Truck and Equipment while the autonomous technology was installed by Kratos Defense, a drone tech company.