Autonomous trucking is the hot topic in transportation these days, and for good reason. Truthfully, there’s never been a more exciting time to be part of the trucking industry. These self-driving trucks are the disruptive innovation that will increase supply chain efficiency, reduce shipping costs, improve the truck driver shortage and save lives with fewer accidents.
The scary truth is that over 4,000 people die a year from auto accidents involving an 18 Wheeler. And that is only a small portion of 330,000 annual accidents involving large trucks. Accidents are caused by driver error approximately 90% of the time. Autonomous trucking capabilities can drastically decrease those numbers. You see, a machine can’t get tired, stressed, or distracted.
The technology behind the automation is always keeping our highways safer. Collectively referred to as “Advanced Driver Assistance Systems” (ADAS), this technology ranges from simple to very complex. It includes the basic tools, like power steering, cruise control, automated gear changing and anti-lock brake systems. Then it has more complex technology such as electronic stability control (ESC). ESC is the technology that improves the trucks stability by actively assessing road conditions and adjusting vehicle handling to avoid the risks of skidding and rollovers.
Another benefit of automation is that it could decrease expenses considerably. Fuel costs are a big part of the operation costs for trucking companies, which trickles down to manufacturers, and ultimately the consumer. With the option to implement vehicle platooning with automated trucks, fuel consumption can be reduced by 10%. Decreasing fuel costs by 10%. And passing that 10% savings all the way down.
Vehicle platooning is when trucks drive close behind one another to utilize the road better and save time, fuel and emissions. In fact, emissions can be reduced by up to 20% with this practice. The distance between the trucks is adjusted to reduce the air drag, as they communicate through radar, GPS, and Wi-Fi. By closing the gap between each vehicle, the trucks encounter decrease wind resistance and therefore better fuel economy.
There is a shortage of truck drivers in the United States. It’s been noted that there is a need for 48,000 truckers in an industry of 800,000.
Even though there have been major advances in autonomous trucking, there is still a need for a human driver to be inside the vehicle. With forward-looking stereoscopic cameras and radar sensors, it’s similar to autopilot on commercial airlines; Highway Pilot. Meaning there is still a lot of important driving for the driver to do: all non-highway cruising, negotiating into loading bays, stepping in when conditions like snow prevent autonomous driving and actually setting and supervising the Highway Pilot.
With all the advanced technology autonomous trucking brings, along with the benefits of reducing daily driving stress and boredom, it’s sure to attract young, tech-savvy drivers to the industry.
Ultimately, the proficiency of this advanced technology is a benefit to us all. With fuel consumption reduced, we’re decreasing transportation costs while simultaneously bettering our environment by emitting fewer emissions. We’re increasing the work-life of thousands of truckers, and making a more attractive job for the unemployed workforce. Oh, and we’re potentially saving 4,000 lives a year.