Automation & the Transportation Industry

There has been a large amount of discussion surrounding issues affecting the Transportation industry, and more specifically the driver shortage. The shortage shows no signs of slowing down with an entire industry trying to figure out the best way to solve it. One piece of news to come out of Nevada last month has people looking at a new way to solve the shortage along with other issues in the industry: automated trucks.

Last month, Daimler Trucks North America was granted the first licence to operate an autonomous commercial truck. This truck made its d├ębut in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 5th and has since had people talking about how automation is going to factor its way into the trucking world.

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Many see this as a strong step into a brighter future, a future where there are less accidents and faster deliveries. The Wall Street Journal published an article in 2013 about truck automation that had managers boasting that they would not have to pay workers, payroll tax, or health benefits if automated trucks because the norm. This is not the case. The truck will require a driver as a plane requires a pilot. Daimler’s truck is listed as a level 3 automation. This means it has ‘limited self-driving automation.’ A future with less accidents and faster deliveries is a possibility, but it is not as simple as one would think.

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To the delight of truck drivers everywhere Daimler reassured everyone that their truck would still need a driver. The truck is only automated on highways and requires a driver for all other driving. There must be an individual with a valid licence in the cab in case something goes wrong. If the truck senses it is in a situation it can’t handle it will send a signal to the driver to take control. This truck uses a camera and radar system called ‘Highway Pilot’ that keeps the truck on course and in its own lane, controls its speed, avoids accidents, and controls the braking and steering.

When discussing automation in trucking, the main idea is to solve the following 3 problems facing the Transportation industry today:

  1. Safety concerns
  2. Driver shortage
  3. Fuel cost

Safety Concerns

These trucks are designed to be safer than if a driver was driving the truck manually. Statistics show that 90% of accidents occur because of driver error. Taking the driver out of the equation could cut down on these accidents. Although the idea of a large truck on the road with no one inside would definitely take some getting use to. There could be safety concerns from the public if this were to be the case down the road (pun fully intended).

Driver Shortage

The biggest issue currently surrounding the trucking industry is its lack of drivers. Drivers are retiring/leaving the industry and there are very few drivers coming in to take their place. In addition, the need for trucks is growing exponentially. Automated trucks could help the driver shortage in that- while drivers are still required- the job would become much easier, meaning it should technically be easier to acquire a licence. Easier licensing and an more appealing job may be just the thing to bring new drivers (especially young drivers) into the industry.

Fuel Costs

The third problem that could be solved with automated trucks is fuel costs. Fuel costs are on the rise and studies show that 60% of wasted tank fuel is caused by driver over acceleration. An automated truck would be able to avoid this wasted fuel and maximize the fuel costs. Another potential benefit to automation is the ability to platoon. Platooning is the idea of having multiple trucks drive behind each other in order to cut down on wind resistance and reduce traffic space/distance. This can not currently be achieved with drivers because each person’s reaction time is different/delayed and could lead to accidents. Automated trucks however, would be able to platoon seamlessly because each truck would have the same reaction time and be connected to react to one another.

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There are many visible benefits to automated trucks. The automation would be a strong step in solving the 3 main problems facing the transportation industry today: safety, a shortage of drivers, and fuel costs. While this technology will provide us with greater instruments for future success it does come at a cost. But drivers rest assured, for the foreseeable future there will always be a place for you in the cab.

-Kaitlyn

As a bonus, Samsung announced their concept of a transparent truck, an exciting step in road safety. Check it out here.

Sources:

http://www.informationweek.com/mobile/mobile-business/first-automated-truck-licensed-to-operate-on-public-roads/d/d-id/1320311

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324144304578624221804774116

http://www.wired.com/2015/05/worlds-first-self-driving-semi-truck-hits-road/

http://fortune.com/2015/05/19/trucking-automation/