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When you think of autonomous driving, it’s likely you think of cars. However, it looks like autonomous trucks will be the first to hit our roads.
In 2017, Tesla patented an electric semi-truck that’s currently in production and will hit the highways in 2020. Then in October last year, Apple patented its own version called “Peloton,” while TuSimple is already supplying shipping ports with autonomous vehicles (there’s even a self-driving forklift). The market for self-driving trucks in closed facilities might be large, but the market for autonomous trucks on our highways is enormous.
It’s a big challenge to bring autonomous cars into city streets, because of factors like traffic density, street regulations and unpredictable pedestrians. Long-haul trucks, though, are mostly used on highways, where these aren’t an issue. Self-driving trucks simply have to stay within their lane, monitor speed and keep a safe distance from other travelers and potential obstacles.
As a result, advanced driver assisted systems (ADAS) are much easier to program for a vehicle that doesn’t have to cope with the complexities of a city. And that’s not all:
1. Autonomous trucks offer drivers respite from long monotonous highways and save companies up to 14% on fuel.
2. Only one human driver is needed to head a convoy of up to six trucks, eliminating the need (and cost) of heating, AC and even windshield wipers. (Remember that great song, Convoy by C.W. McCall? Now convoys can drive themselves.)
3. Companies gain freight space where driver compartments used to be.
4. The lead driver is able to take regular breaks, preventing exhaustion-related accidents. This results in safer roads for everyone.
5. Autonomous trucks can significantly reduce traffic congestion by following the most optimal routes via live maps.
HERE Real-Time Traffic provides accurate information about congestion, incidents and construction zones so you can navigate the roads more freely.
Autonomous trucks are grouped into a convoy, connected via Wi-Fi and automated driving systems. These vehicles automatically maintain a measured, close distance between each other. This reduces wind resistance (and fuel costs) and allows trucks to turn, speed up and brake simultaneously.
As with other autonomous vehicles, a combination of sensors, human machine interfacing, blind spot detection and collision-prevention technologies help trucks gain information and awareness on the road.
While it’s true that some drivers may be out of a job and some may decide to leave the industry, companies plan to reskill truckers. This includes training them as lead platoon drivers, administrative personnel or even as employees similar to tugboat operators – meeting automated trucks at a docking station and then “driving” them to a warehouse for service or storage.
A human operator is capable of overseeing up to thirty autonomous trucks per hour.
With mining companies like Suncor already using self-driving trucks and Melbourne based Rio Tinto, sharing stats like “one billion tons of material without a single injury,” it looks like we’ll all soon be seeing self-driving trucks hauling freight on our highways. In fact, autonomous trucks are only one law away in the UK, proving that the best results for self-driving vehicles are in the trucking industry. Companies quick to embrace these new applications will be ahead of the game.
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