You’ve probably seen the headlines and the video clips: autonomous trucks on the highway. No drivers involved. This is the future, right? And fully autonomous trucks must be at the next turn, correct?
Well, tap the brakes.
Self-driving cars already have a public-perception issue – self-driving long-haul freight trucks could ignite another level of concern altogether.
The question around autonomous vehicles is much more a matter of when than if; however, the specifics around that when are uncertain. According to proprietary research data from the 451 Alliance, less than half of respondents in the transportation industry have deployed IoT sensors, so let’s look at the status of commercial autonomous trucking today and its potential future.
Autonomy’s current status
According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), almost 71% of all freight transportation in the United States is done by trucking. In order to improve the efficiency and profitability of trucking, long-haul truck manufacturers are turning to attainable levels of autonomy.
The Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) ranks levels of autonomy from 0 to 5 – with 0 being no autonomy and 5 being fully autonomous in all conditions and locations. Higher levels of autonomy will continue to be tested, but there won’t be widespread deployment anytime soon.
For today’s long-haul truck manufacturers and the applicable technology vendors, advanced levels of autonomy are a major goal moving forward, but the current timetable aims to get level 4 trucks into production in the next decade.
The landscape surrounding commercial autonomous trucking is still in its infancy. Many major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are in proof-of-concept or testing stages and have yet to develop an autonomous long-haul vehicle.
For the time being, the majority of advanced AVs in trucking will operate within a small, fixed area. In terms of what is currently possible, SAE levels 1 and 2, which are significantly lower levels of autonomy, create the most present opportunity for connected endpoint deployment.
IoT endpoint opportunity
Today’s level of sophistication in autonomous trucks in mass production is fairly low; however, the technology being used has noticeable benefits. While more advanced levels of autonomy tend to garner more excitement and headlines, these simpler sensors and measures present the most immediate opportunity for IoT and autonomy in long-haul trucking.
Sensors, such as cameras and radar for lane centering; adaptive cruise control; and parking assistance are all fairly standard features in level 1 and level 2 autonomous vehicles. Adding Lidar to that sensor mix can enhance a truck’s sensor set and begin to move it toward greater autonomy.
HD and 3-D mapping software can also help drivers more efficiently transport goods by highlighting up-to-date directions that account for mapping issues that standard automobiles don’t have to consider (low bridges, inclement weather, etc.). Via advanced compute resources and analytics, mapping software is able to quickly model the environment of the truck and its surroundings.
A more advanced drive-by-wire system is another attainable feature of basic autonomy, which helps save on fuel and ultimately create a more cost-efficient truck.
The most successful manufacturers of autonomous trucks will address ways to simultaneously increase profit margins and improve driver safety.
The future is… later
Although clips of driverless trucks may lead the public to believe we are on the verge of eliminating the trucking profession and flooding the roads with robot freights, the near future is far less radical. Level 1 and 2 autonomy will undoubtedly have an impact on how freight transportation is conducted, but drastic changes to the trucking industry are still a long way off.