SH 130 gets smart tech upgrade for driverless trucks

The modifications to SH 130 involve changes that most drivers traveling on the tollway may not notice. 

Special utility poles will be going up between the main lanes for hi-tech cameras and sensors. The information collected will create a digital model of the highway using technology from Cavnue, a Washington D.C. transportation tech firm. 

The idea is to provide real-time data for "Connected and Automated Vehicles" known as CAVs. Specifically, new types of driverless big-rigs, autonomous trucks. This new roadway information system will expand the vision of on-board sensors, according to Cavnue co-founder Tyler Duvall.

"Today, we see a lot of issues with debris in the roadway, vehicles weaving, stalled vehicles, pavement problems. But on most roadways, including SH 130, there are major coverage gaps, so all these things are happening but no one's really seeing them or knowing they're happening in real time. This means road operators are delayed in responding to issues in the road, whether it's a crash or a large piece of debris, which creates major safety risks. Our technology both observes what's happening on the roadway and is able to share those insights very quickly with TxDOT. It can also share those insights with connected and automated vehicles on the road, giving them a heads up about potential issues on the road ahead far beyond the reach of their own sensors so they can operate more safely," said Duvall.

The TxDOT plan for SH 130 will create what's called a Smart Freight Corridor. It’s to run 21 miles from Georgetown to Mustang Ridge. Preliminary work is underway for Phase 1, which involves a three-mile section.

"We're going to install a series of sensors along one direction of SH 130, and that work will start later this year. TxDOT, as our partner, is working with us on the contractor selection side to determine who will be doing the construction. Once the sensors have been installed, we'll start testing," said Duvall.

The road tech upgrade is coming as five autonomous freight companies have already started making long and short haul deliveries in parts of Texas.

FOX 7 spoke to drivers about sharing the road with the CAVs.

"I think whatever factors they can do to help prevent anything, any serious injuries and stuff like that, and definitely the bad side I see is it taking away jobs from truckers and stuff like that? I hate to see people lose their jobs," said Eddie Castillo. 

Driverless passenger vehicles have had issues. Back in September, cars operated by a company called Cruise got jammed up in a west campus neighborhood. The smart corridor technology could prevent a similar pile up, and it’s expected that smaller advanced vehicles will also be able to tap into the system.

"There are a ton of vehicles on the road with advanced driver systems today, both in terms of personal vehicles and advanced trucks. These systems, which include things like automated braking, are making vehicles smarter and safer, and the federal government is pushing for more of these features to become standard in new vehicles coming to market. Our view is that the roadways need to get smarter so they can help these vehicles perform their best. And that's what we're focused on building at Cavnue," said Duvall.

People still have their doubts.

"Yeah. I just, you know, I know the technology for self-driving cars are somewhat there. And you've seen, like the videos of the people sleeping on the freeway while their cars driving. But then you hear of all these wrecks, and I just don't know if we're there as a society," said Nick Wells, who works in the insurance industry. 

The entire Smart Freight Corridor is expected to be online by Spring 2025.

"I just wonder how much that's gonna cost," said Austin driver Tom Barrett.

TxDOT is paying $1.4 million for the SH 130 project. The smart corridor project is considered a test track. The technology may be expanded to other parts of Texas.