What Do Self-Driving Trucks Mean For The Freight Industry?

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A couple of decades ago, self-driving vehicles were the stuff of science fiction; the kind of thing that’s only seen in over-the top, action-packed films. However, today, they’re getting very close to becoming a reality. While most companies experimenting with this technology are focussing on consumer passenger vehicles, one firm, Daimler, has begun testing for the first-driving semi-truck. Here, we’ll take a closer look at what this means for the company, and the trucking industry as a whole.

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Source: Pixabay

Although most of the news we see has been focussing on Google’s self-driving project, Daimler has been making considerable strides forward, and just might beat Google to their place in the market. Perfecting the technology for a self-driving freight truck is a marginally simpler affair, as long-haul trucks spend the majority of their time on long stretches of highway and freeway. As a result, Google’s struggling towards its target to release their self-driving vehicles by the year 2020, while Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration truck has already been officially licensed to operate on public highways in Nevada, USA.

The initial reaction from many people who work in the long-haul and truck servicing industries has been one of panic. With self-driving trucks that are becoming so sophisticated so quickly, many in these sectors assume that their jobs are at risk. While it’s uncertain what this tech will mean for these kinds of jobs, it’s clear that self-driving trucks are far too valuable to turn back on themselves. In the US, heavy trucks represent around 20% of total transportation fuel, but self-driving trucks may be capable of reducing fuel bills by 4-7%. With most long-haul trucks travelling hundreds of thousands of miles through their useful life, this translates into thousands of dollars in savings for the industry every year! Regardless of what it means for workers, the money is simply too much to turn away from.

Daimler, in partnership with Peloton Technology, is leading the way in developing truck platoons that can further reduce the massive cost of fuel, and haul more freight at a time than was ever possible before. While a whole convoy of driverless trucks might sound pretty over the top, it’s technically very feasible. There would be a lead truck, with a single driver in the cab, whose job it would be to lead a convoy of twelve or so trucks along their route. Peloton’s platooning technology allows two or more trucks to connect through a cloud infrastructure, and uses safety features such as active braking, which is already something found in a range of consumer vehicles on the road. While the lead driver would have control over all the trucks in this model, drivers would still be needed to negotiate highway exits, tricky urban streets, and backing up into loading bays. While this is expected to help with the western world’s truck driver shortage, it’s still unclear if any working truckers will lose their jobs to driverless tech.

Self-driving cars still have a long way to go before they become a common sight on our roads, but self-driving trucks are speeding on towards mass production.

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