Across all the features that self-driving technology has to offer, we might think of lane keeping as one of the most basic features possible. However, lane keeping is a complex behavior that relies on multiple components, sensors, and procedures to complete safe driving behaviors. In self-driving technology, precision is everything, making lane keeping a foundational necessity that underscores the safe and efficient operation of robotic trucks.

What is lane keeping?

Lane keeping is a critical driving functionality that ensures a vehicle stays within its designated lane on the road. Many newer consumer cars and commercial semi-trucks have some form of autonomous lane-keeping system programmed in, albeit there are several nuances and differences between types of lane-keeping systems, such as:

Lane Keep Assist (LKA)

Lane Keep Assist is a feature that can be toggled on and off on most vehicles. It typically works via camera, allowing the LKA to “see” the lane lines and nudge your vehicle within the lane lines when it begins to drift. However, because it’s camera-based, this feature may struggle to perform in muddy, snowy, or especially rainy conditions.

Lane Keep Assist is sometimes confused with Lane Departure Warning, which alerts drivers via haptic feedback, audible alerts, and sometimes indicator lights, if they’ve begun drifting out of the lane. Unlike other forms of lane-keeping systems, lane departure warning won’t correct the vehicle’s path. Instead, its job is to inform the driver that the vehicle is exiting the lane.

Lane Centering Assist (LCA)

Lane centering, sometimes called autosteer, takes LKA a step further. This feature is typically part of a vehicle’s adaptive cruise control, wherein a vehicle performs most highway behaviors itself while under human supervision. Lane centering is an active technology that keeps a vehicle in the center of its lane and can typically be turned on and off.

Today, many Class 8 trucks come equipped with various forms of Lane Keep Assist, Lane Centering Assist, and Adaptive Cruise Control. Aside from making drives safer for truck drivers and other highway users alike, these features can adjust throttle inputs and gear ratios for more efficient driving behaviors. By utilizing these features, drivers can optimize the amount of fuel their equipment consumes, reducing costs across the board.

Why is lane keeping important?

Lane keeping plays a foundational role in ensuring the safe and efficient operation of any vehicle, including our autonomous trucks. By enabling our robotic trucks to steadfastly maintain their designated lanes, we’re not only addressing a core competency in highway navigation but proving that our technology can be a safe foundation for a self-driving system.

Lane-keeping is important because of its impact on safety, but there are a few other reasons why we focus on this behavior as one of the most integral in safe-driving technology.

lane keeping

 

Traffic Flow and Predictability

When vehicles stay within their designated lanes, it reduces the likelihood of swerving and abrupt lane changes. When we humans learn to drive, we learn that being a predictable driver means being a safe driver.

Our autonomous technology is no different. In order to reduce the likelihood of traffic accidents and promote smoother traffic flow, we must ensure that other drivers are able to anticipate what our self-driving truck is going to do at all times. Whether that means keeping a consistent, steady pace within one lane or using an indicator light to shift lanes, predictability should be at the forefront of all lane-keeping behaviors.

Efficiency

By staying within the given lane, vehicles maximize the use of available road space, allowing more efficient traffic flow. During peak hours, when space is at a premium, this can reduce delays, avoid bottlenecks, and make it easier for vehicles to travel at a consistent speed throughout their journey.

How do self-driving cars and trucks stay in their lanes?

Self-driving trucks and self-driving cars stay in their lanes via cameras, Global Navigation Satellite Systems, LiDAR (or Light Detection and Ranging sensors), and more. Thanks to the work of autonomous driving engineers, our self-driving semi-trucks’ perception suite can recognize lane markers, interpret them correctly, and communicate this information to the rest of the system. From there, the autonomous driving system can utilize the information to maintain a set speed and keep watch on the distance between it and the vehicle in front of it.

There’s a common misconception that driverless cars and driverless trucks rely on lane markers alone to make sense of the path before them. While this used to be the case for very early self-driving cars, our autonomous abilities have advanced to grand new heights. Today, lane markers (and the cameras that “see” them) are just one piece of the puzzle.

Self-driving vehicles also utilize radar, which is sometimes found in Lane Keep Assist programs that we have in our day-to-day cars. Radar adds an additional safety component to lane navigation. Using radio waves to detect objects like other cars and traffic cones, radar helps paint the picture of what the driving environment looks like. In the same vein, mapping allows a self-driving vehicle to utilize historical information about the road to navigate in conjunction with the other tools in its toolbox. These two tools work with lane marker detection to assess the environment, calculate the safest possible behavior, and execute that behavior.

Lane Keeping and Robotic Trucks

As proponents of safe and sustainable self-driving practices, our autonomous driving system keeps in line with regulatory and industry best practices throughout all lane keeping behaviors. Aside from its impact on safety, proper lane keeping allows us to operate predictably to drivers on the road around us, prove our product’s viability, and promote a safe self-driving future.

As we forge ahead with our driverless trucking development, we will continue to innovate, collaborate, and lead the way in advancing our autonomous driving system. Through ongoing research, development, and collaboration with our stakeholders and partners, we will further enhance our lane-keeping capabilities to meet the evolving needs and expectations of the industry and the public. Together, we’re driving the future of freight.