Autonomous Trucking Seen as Boosting Safety, Reducing Costs

More than three quarters of transport companies expect autonomous trucks to become a viable option on the roads within the next decade, according to an International Road Transport Union (IRU) survey of 450 participants published this week.

Of the three quarters — 76% — who see self-driving trucks on roads within the decade, 29% report that they believe autonomous trucks will be hitting the road within the next five years.

The survey also found transport companies believe the primary benefit of automation would be a boost in productivity (50%) followed by helping to cut costs (9%).

In addition, a third of the transport companies surveyed worldwide report that they believe improving safety will be the biggest innovation opportunity, while one in five cited automation.

“For technology to take hold, and for the industry to truly benefit from it, we must ensure we have the foundations in place,” IRU Secretary General Umberto de Pretto wrote in a statement. “This means first getting the basics right, such as full transitioning to digital documentation, improving traceability, security and efficiency.”

Survey respondents report that the major challenges to adopting technology-driven innovation were cost and investment (71%) and a limited understanding of the range of emerging technologies available (50%).

The survey also indicated that while automation and technology will define the future of road transport, significant geopolitical and economic concerns remain problematic.

“There is no question that autonomous trucks will eventually be transformative for the industry, helping boost productivity, create efficiencies and enhance driver working conditions,” Boris Blanche, IRU’s managing director, wrote in a statement. “But drivers will not become obsolete any time in the future, and in fact the industry must continue to encourage more drivers into the profession.”

Earlier this year, German auto giant Daimler unveiled a new, semi-autonomous line of its Mercedes-Benz Actros trucks that feature the company’s new driver assistance technology.

The commercial truck division of Swedish carmaker Volvo has also been ramping up investment in autonomous technology, resulting in a self-driving tow vehicle bearing little resemblance to your classic big rig.

These autonomous electric vehicles are linked to a cloud service and a transport control center and carry sensors designed to locate their current position to within centimeters.

Ericsson is collaborating with a Swedish AV startup and a telco to develop all-electric autonomous trucks with 5G connectivity, while AT&T and Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), a division of the German mobility powerhouse, are bringing wireless connectivity to heavy-duty truck fleets worldwide.

Meanwhile, as part of Volkswagen’s transportation partnership with the city’s government, autonomous trucks from MAN Truck & Bus are to be tested in Hamburg, Germany.

Trials are due to take place between January 2019 and June 2020, while they’re due to embark upon trial operations between July and December 2020.

In the US, a September report from transportation analytics specialist Inrix that looked at truck traffic routes in the US found Florida and California would benefit the most from the expanded deployment of autonomous trucks.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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