Long haul. Regional, local and logistical delivery. Truck drivers and the general public.  Autonomous, connected, and new mobility platforms are taking center stage in trucking companies large and small.  Ross Froat, Director of Engineering and Information Technology at the American Trucking Associations, talks about how these new technologies are front-and-center for an industry that brings us just about everything we use every day.



Regina (00:00) From GRIDSMART Technologies, I’m Regina Hopper. Welcome to POLICYSMART.

Regina (00:19) Hello everybody. This is Regina Hopper, and this edition of POLICYSMART is going to be about trucks and fleets and what’s happening on the roads with new mobility, connected, autonomous, um, in the, the vernacular of how we get our things, not just how we personally get around, but, but how we get our things. Joining us today is Ross Froat. Ross is the director of engineering and information technology at the American trucking associations, which is just across the river in Washington DC in Arlington, Virginia. Ross, thanks so much for being here.

Ross (00:55) Thank you for having me.

Regina (00:57) You know, I am an Alumna of the American trucking associations and so I am always proud to say that, you know, ATA is truly the engine that keeps the trucking industry going.

Ross (01:11) Well, thank you. Yeah, we definitely do a lot for the industry. Definitely. Uh, support, and love our members of all a lot of work, uh, of many things that we have a advocacy priorities on and a lot of pictures that we cover. So we try to cover everything and everything that our membership does, different sectors of the trucking industry is that there are, and of all the different divisions of trucking equipment, technology, operations, security, things like that, but the list goes on. But there’s a, there’s a lot of events and a lot of members that work with and try and cover a lot. So we’re, we’re very, uh, we’re very happy with what we’ve conquered so far. We’re looking for a lot of other things to win on.

Regina (01:58) Well, you told me when we talked last week about getting ready for this podcast that you almost kind of fell into the autonomous and connected, sort of by virtue of, of being there. So tell me a little bit about, um, to me, when I think about new mobility for trucking and fleets, it kind of falls into three categories and that the industry itself, you know, what is the industry doing to help in this new world? The driver, right? And we’ve always been concerned about trucking and the drivers and the life of the driver, the safety of the driver. And then of course the general public. The, you know, the, the look at how trucks operate on the road. So I don’t know if you divide them into different categories, but I was hoping we could kind of touch on each. So how did you begin through ATA addressing the issues of new mobility? What, what really drove that?

Ross (02:51) Me Personally, I’m coming to ATA. Uh, I had no idea how, how, why, how, how huge this issue is and a, and every little tiny issue within it. Me starting at ATA, uh, I covered a lot of program and project engineering project technical projects covering a advance technology safety technology, things like that. Electrical, electrical technologies, electrical vehicles that is um, large electric vehicles and a lot of different details of how the trucks operate and how they maintain safety and how they maintain themselves through operations. But for automated trucks and a connected truck, this really started If I pick a year. I mean, I’m thinking back in like 2014, 15, when a lot of the type was talking about platooning, how we grew. That alone from not being mentioned a lot to now almost every other word in the conversation on the hill and in regulatory offices and within our membership, that as an example alone,

Ross (03:58) It’s kind of interesting how that just expanded so much. Platooning, and when I’m talking about platooning, I’m talking about the connectivity between two truck, two tractor trailers going down the highway at a limited that will add a, at a shorter distance in between almost drafting the aerodynamics and fuel efficiency of that aerodynamics has increased and the emissions have lowered due to the due to the fuel efficiency of course and that connectivity between one truck to another is like they said it’s there, it’s growing because now we’re talking about vehicle to vehicle technology, vehicle to infrastructure technologies. You know there’s a certain frequency how they all talk to each other and how they relate and communicate and secure that communication, you know, and then they’ll parallel to that. Then you have a lot of advanced driver assistance system growing at an exponential rate and then level one trucks and then now level two trucks are coming out.

Ross (05:02) Diamler announced that level II SAE level II Automated trucks are here and they will be selling those trucks this or next year. And then from the beginning of it all this about 2014, 15, you know, we had the first automated truck that went over the Hoover Dam and Daimler announced by 2025 to that, they’re going to be selling a fully automated truck, uh, on US roads. And this is just things going on in the US, not even to talk about what’s going on at the Pan and across other international countries. So it’s a very, very exciting time for the trucking industry. There’s a lot of job growth going on through stakeholders and developing and testing and deploying these technologies. And, uh, and it’s just very, very exciting and it’s a great time to be in trucking, uh, to learn and to work with these types of things because this is an evolutionary time where from, from the get go of the computer generation and the Internet, the development of the internet has just blown out. I mean, this is absolutely an incredible time of how trucking is becoming. So technologically advanced and it’s awesome to be in that realm too, to work and work for ATA and doing that. I don’t know if that really covered your question. But I hoped it kinda touched it.

Regina (06:24) It did. It covered a lot. I’m taking notes because there’s so many questions I want to follow up on. So in platooning you described that, well how, how real is that? I mean how, I know we’ve seen some tests of it out, especially out west where there’s lots of room and I know when people kind of get freaked out when big trucks are going really fast and they would probably be really freaked out if they think big trucks are going really fast and there’s not a driver in one of them. So tell, tell, tell us a little bit about how real is it, you know, the testing and the piloting versus the reality of platooning on the road and are there really any leaders in the area?

Ross (07:00) Absolutely. Um, I could tell you that it’s very real, just as real as you connecting your phone, Bluetooth to your car real. Everybody has been doing that for a long time. When we were talking about platooning and the following distance it gets, it gets a little bumpy interrupter because they have separate state laws about following distance specifically for trucks. If you’re brand new to trucking the stop a tractor trailer takes a bit of a distance or the truck to come to a complete stop. Now there are national safety standard by the DOT that, that, uh, that and uh, support, uh, advanced braking distance, right breaking goal. Um, and but each individual state have, that’s pretty much the national standards, kind of like bare minimum space, pretty much take it up from there. And then states have some sort of a following distance. So currently for the last couple of years now, actually there’s been a lot of groups out there including ACA that has been breaking down those barriers and really supporting and showing that, you know, this technology is real, it works.

Ross (08:08) And, uh, and because of that, DOT has been taking up a lot of research funding and a university to pretty much figure out, hey, is this a possibility? Can we really do this? Um, because it, it’s the port and it will, it supports trucking technology but not only that, it’s just that there’s a big broader topic out there. Uh, and that vehicle to everything. Vehicle V2X, a type of activity that connects a truck to a car, to a stop sign to a red light to a national network system. And you know, the intelligent transportation systems of America, America or, or just its for the international mode does this a lot. They work around this issue a lot, ATA has worked with them a lot of different areas on this week. Definitely worked with a lot of other coalitions and a different associates on that manner too.

Ross (09:03) But platooning is just one, one piece of the larger puzzle and if we can conquer platooning, it really opens the door up, securing that communication bandwidth between truck to truck, to everything else. And uh, and however it comes down to pipeline, if it goes to everything else or just platooning, it’s coming and it’s a real technology. We plan this safety spectrum, uh, this frequency. That’s really the FCC, I think back in 1999 they dedicated this band to have for vehicle safety communications. Now it’s been a while and there are some entities out there that are trying to say that transportation is never going to use it. Let’s use it for something else. And we’re absolutely trying to say, no, let’s keep it in transportation. It has taken us a while, but we are definitely in a very fast mode and deploying things on that frequency. And those are some challenges that we’re working with, but we are continuously working with our members and Government regulators and Paula and on the hill and trying to educate and more advanced as technology so that we utilize it.

Ross (10:14) And better yet it’s been researched and proven for safety technology is actually worked through different types of scenarios where a truck is maneuvering and these technologies, like I say, our first safety, will alert the driver or the system even to say, Hey, there’s a vehicle approaching. You need to stop. Okay, you’re not going to stop. I’m going to stop for you. Um, you know, these are, these are actually proven and tested technologies throughout the many, many years that they’ve been working towards and you can almost say the US is almost close to behind because in Europe and Asia they’ve been advancing this for some time now and so Nitsa by example just put out a federal vehicle safety standards. They put out a notice on that in 2015 or 16 I believe and that is a real safety standard that they’re still reviewing comments and seeing what they need to do next on. So we are, we are in the midst of a lot of this working knowledge going on and we’re not going to stop this frequency.

Ross (11:12) This technology is real and it’s here to stay. So platooning, it’s like I said, it’s just one piece of a puzzle that is a larger spectrum and we are working with our platooning members. And you asked for some leaders in that area and Peloton, it’s definitely one of the leaders. Volvo is definitely a leader. Volvo truck, ZF, if you don’t know ZF, ZF makes a lot of steering and braking and large chassis components. Bosch is also a leader in this area. LAFCO as a leader in this area. There may be a lot of other ones that I’m not listing, but there is, there’s a lot of leaders in this area. They’ve all come to ATA, they’re working with ATA. So we have a single voice in position we’ve had that and have developed that and we are working with that method to the hill, to DOT and so on.

Regina (11:56) Well I’m so glad to hear that at the ITS the traditional intelligent transportation community and the trucking community are now talking with one another and working together. It’s great for me to hear. This was something that we were working on back when I was at ITS America and certainly, none of this technology existed when I was at ATA. So from the perspective of these, these varying different modes working together to advance the connectivity, uh, of all the vehicles and the infrastructure, not just cars are not just the scooters or everything else. It seems to me sharing the road these days. Um, it’s great to hear so many questions to come out of this, but let me, that’s sort of what’s happening on the industry side. You mentioned DSRC versus the 5G and protecting the spectrum, all of these issues that are there to make sure that the connectivity really works. Let’s shift though now to the driver and the driver. There’ve been many people who’ve said, oh well, you know, connectivity, autonomy, new technological advances, platooning, all of these things around getting the trucks down the road that’s just going to result in driver displacement. So what are you guys doing on the area of driver acceptability driver displacement, those issues?

Ross (13:13) Sure. I don’t have the exact driver displacement issues in front of me, but it’s a very large number. I think we need something around 40 maybe 50,000 drivers today. There’s a, there’s a very large short of drivers, let’s just say you can look at it in a department of labor statistics alone on this. And ATA has written up a lot of, uh, papers and research relevant this and they’re all public on our website. They’re all public on the American transportation research institute’s website, things like that, but for the workforce, on top of workforce, we do have a policy committee on workforce. And that started I think last year, maybe the year before. Just the focus exactly on the question that you asked we do have a partner in the transportation innovation group PTIO. Um, is that uh, that ATA was one of the product leaders up Diamler and a and a bunch of other stakeholders.

Ross (14:11) The trucking are a part of this coalition as well. And that group alone is, is a lobbying and focusing on the workforce of educating drivers, new drivers, brand new drivers on automated truck around the main vehicle. Now I can tell you right now, ATA right now as currently we are a driver assist forward position. We have drivers support position, not that we don’t think automated trucks are coming. We do think automated trucks are coming, no doubt about that. But as a scene right now of where we are, we don’t see an automated truck out there without a driver today on the road. And I don’t think there’s anyone that can maybe disagree with us just beyond even if you have that type of technology out there right now and how, how advanced it is and let’s say you can do it. It’s about getting the state. And, and capital region, you know, to agree with that and to pass the appropriate bills and DOT a regulation to agree with that, to be okay with that.

Ross (15:12) And that’s what ATA is working right now and educating and making sure the rule makers and policymakers know of this technology and, and are comfortable with this technology so that, you know, a bill passed that represents not only cars but trucks too. Allowing cars to go autonomous and just automated and not allowing trucks is difficult to comprehend because they both share the same road but they may be different in size and they may travel differently, but they’re both sharing the same road. So they need to communicate together and they need to operate just like they do today, uh, on a conventional level that we need to advance them both through policies and rule making. So that is one thing that ATA is always talking about, and we’re, we’re always fighting for on the hill and we will continue to fight for that on the hill and DOT as well. But we do see auto- like I said, we do definitely see automated trucks coming in the future.

Ross (16:09) When that comes, I can’t give you a timeline. That’s always the number one question everyone asks me, when do you think automated trucks will be on the road? I think that as much as we can focus on it and deploy it and educate our policymakers and rule makers on that subject as fast as we want to grow that, but there are a lot of surrounding issues that have that topic you bring up for. What about the drivers? There’s a huge driver shortage and if drivers have a huge role in what they do in trucks, even if the truck is fully automated, there’s still our system, our infrastructure. It’s set up for a driver to be in the truck either doing breakdown or listening or communicating with an officer or an enforcement officer somewhere on the side of the road like a driver is somehow relied on and expected to be in the truck, and these are things that we are limited to deploying automated trucks but we are right now we are working with those, with those entities, with those different types of levels of infrastructure, enforcement people, and we are planning what we’re doing with best practices and policy and what we can do to help in changing that to start to have the movement of automated trucks in the near future.

Ross (17:30) You can imagine where I’m going with a lot of different areas with this, its a very broad, broad subject but just know it is coming. ATA supports automated trucks. We also support the driver community and we want to grow that driver community. Automated trucks will be a business decision upon the fleet, even as it is even as it is today, when a fleet decides to put certain safety technologies on their truck, you know, they know what’s best for their business and they know when they’re most vulnerable or less vulnerable and they make that decision to apply, go beyond it, go above the extra mile to apply safety technologies or whatever other technologies on there. If it’s automated trucks, it’s automated trucks, if it’s available and they want to do it, let them do it. And that’s the business position of a fleet, and that’s what ATA is constantly talking about to people.

Regina (18:21) One of the things I remember most about being at trucking other than constantly promoting the safety of trucking, um, I know I remember having America’s road team, I don’t know if ATA still has that or not. Um, where, yeah, well you know, where you celebrate the truck driver and um, and you know, it the top at everyone’s list was always as you said, safety, you know, the safety and security of the driver. The other thing that I also remember was balancing all of this with the razor-thin margins that the trucking industry always had at from a business perspective. So you know, the balancing of the safety measures with the, the economic and um, and business measures that each of these, what would a really logistical and frank companies have to do as a day to day is a day to day challenge. And so, so when you’re looking at these two issues put together, I’m assuming that based upon what you’ve said is that the industry has decided that from a technological and safety perspective, from a revenue perspective, from an operational perspective, that these technologies in the end will help make the trucking industry stronger.

Regina (19:26) Question. Right. So let’s talk a little bit now about the public and of course drivers are part of that, the safety and security of the systems, the sustainability and fuel efficiency that they bring. What do you think the public needs to know about autonomous and connected trucking to make the public, in general, more accepting of these technologies?

Ross (19:50) Well, on the advancements and technology alone, um, and that’s in that wraps in the automated technologies and the connected vehicle technology. I just think it’s really good to the public to know that, you know, trucking is moving forward and being, and being as much as they can be a fan as they can be. Uh, as a consumer, even me, myself, you know, I ordered, I don’t know, every five years I go out and get a brand new cell phone and that’s pretty much the limit of, you know, what I think I need to have to, to be at most advanced and their cell phone of what it can do. It’s pretty impressive where we are with these things. And if you think about that exact same trait and trucks, you would have the exact same opinion because there are multiple systems and onboard computers on these trucks nowadays.

Ross (20:44) And I’m not even the brand new truck that’s talking about trucks and they’re in the mid two thousands and even before that, ever since fuel injector system went to electronic injection and variable and smart devices that create more efficient power system on trucks. I mean it is growing and growing and if you look at the 21st century truck partnership with the DOE or any of the super truck programs that were blowing up a couple of years back and they are continuously increasing. I had working with super truck on these things and making them more fuel efficient. They are, I mean it’s really mind blowing how smart we are making these trucks and just on fuel efficiency alone and in DOT’s mind that’s great. But we want safety first and so does ATA. And safety technologies are just expanding like wildfire for these types of trucks and it’s really, really good. Really good for the public to be aware of that when they’re driving by your truck, it’s not some dumb piece of machine driving down the road, uh, just with just some really loud squeaky brakes and a very loud antennae that’s making a weird noise when it’s going down the hill that’s filthy or anything like that. They are very, very technologically advanced. And I wish that the public knew as much as what I’ve seen going to ATA meetings, events, and other industries even, and seeing just how just how advanced and pretty amazing how these technologies have become in safety. There are certain small things that we can adopt to improve safety by a percent, and it’s amazing how there are a lot of innovators out there are creating these products or these services or systems. And they’re coming to these events, they’re setting up a booth and selling these products. It’s kind of like, Whoa, I never even thought about that. And then before you know it, they’re being bought up by a traditional suppliers or OEMs or they partner with other vendors and it’s very, very fun and exciting to see the growth potential in trucking and technology at these events. These exhibits that are happening now are enormous. The technology event that happened last month had half a million square feet of exhibit space. Over 5000 attendees came to that. That event can’t go to any other conference center. It’s very hard for that event to find any other conference center because of how big it is. Right. And all these businesses are expanding and developing and its just a big growth and potential market right now. I know that the public may look at it, and it’s not a sexy items on the list of things that the public may look at for trucks. Man, if they just knew a little bit about what’s going on underneath the hood and what’s going on in that trailer, because even the trailers are smart now if you’re an engineer or thinking about becoming an engineer or any other type of entity in trucking, it’s a very exciting time for the public to get involved.

Regina (24:00) Well, they sure do have a great spokesperson in you. They’re lucky. They’re lucky to have you. I think on that note, there’s, there’s nothing more to say there. Well, there’s a lot more to say in this area, but certainly, with regard to, to wrapping up and Gosh, that interview went quick. Um, that, you know, thank you for being so excited for all the work you’re doing. That’s so cool to hear that there’s so much going on. And that the inner connectivity isn’t just happening between vehicles. It’s happening from a public policy and business perspective with, with trucks and fleets and everybody else on the road. So congratulations with everything you’re doing. At the American trucking associations with, with trucking and this new connected and automated world and we really appreciate the time, Ross, that you took to speak with us. Any, any last thoughts from you?

Ross (24:50) No, just thank you for having me. And um, you know, if there’s any other topics that come up for the future you feel like you’d like to have more discretion on, please reach out. I’m always blowing up.

Regina (25:02) Awesome. That’s great. Ross Froat, director of engineering and information technology with the American trucking associations. Thank you so much. And yes, we will be reaching out to you again soon. Thanks Ross.

Ross (25:14) Awesome. Thank you.

Regina (25:16) So thanks so much for listening and participating in the POLICYSMART podcast. You can download the POLICYSMART app on the Apple App Store and GooglePlay. And you can listen to the podcast on Apple Podcast, GooglePlay and, now, on Spotify. And also please leave a review to help people like you, those interested in the next generation of mobility and intelligent transportation, find us.

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