The transportation industry is due for a massive shakeup with the inclusion of a large number of self driving trucks. Self driving semi trucks have been available for a number of years since the initial launch and testing of the Volvo self driving truck as well as a number of other projects. The self-driving trucks technology that is behind these new vehicles shows promising leaps in innovation. We could even be moving towards the elimination of drivers in the future.
The latest self driving trucks can outperform even the best hybrid trucks. Autonomous trucks are quickly beating out omissions from vehicles like the Ford F1 50 hybrid. With all of these revelations in transportation, self driving trucks may soon become the new reality on the roads for the transportation industry.
Some of the major advancements in self-driving trucks:
Self driving transport trucks have recently become one of the largest automated vehicle development projects for self driving vehicles in general. Uber was once one of the largest in the transportation industry for automation but they have since discontinued their projects. In 2016, Uber was the first to introduce self driving trucks and even made a series of successful deliveries. Other manufacturers are now stepping in to bridge this gap.
The parent company of Mercedes-Benz as well as Freightliner continues to test a series of automated truck since the year 2014. Mercedes-Benz at one time had one of the most advanced automated assist driving aids on the market. With plans to move the entire automated truck research Center to Portland Oregon, Daimler is opening up new opportunities within the US truck and transport market.
Tesla is a company that is best known for its electric vehicles. They also released one of their first self driving trucks in November of 2017. Tesla made a series of deliveries throughout 2019 with breaking, steering and acceleration all controlled by a computer. The Tesla system still relies on a driver behind the wheel and the semi economist operation is only designed to help reduce fatigue. The hybrid electric transport trucks are some of the most advanced ever produced and they’re working to improve the environment as well.
Perhaps one of the largest players in the North American market for transport trucks and automation is Embark. The company is automating driving processes on the highway ensuring that the driver can take over operation of the vehicle as soon as the truck it’s often an exit. Embark has been consistently testing trucks on runs between El Peso Texas and Palm Springs California. These are still only semi-autonomous vehicles with the need for a driver.
Tusimple Is a company based out of Beijing China that also operates out of San Diego. The company has a testing facility in Tucson and many of their trucks and driven well over 15,000 miles. The trucks that are produced here use an efficient camera technology and laser-based radar to automate the trucks in the same way that self driving cars are designed. Driver supervisors are often placed in these trucks and the system is used to efficiently detect items on the highway as well as manage the speed of the vehicle with relation to other vehicles on the road. TuSimple does have some outstanding credentials when it comes to the projects that they’ve worked on, and it’s likely that many of their vehicles will be taking to the roads in China and the US towards the end of 2020.
Waymo is a Google funded product under their parent company known as alphabet. Each truck built with Waymo uses an advanced radar system to navigate the roads and has a human driver on board in case of an emergency. Since March, these trucks have been operating out of Atlanta to deliver freight to various Google data centers across the United States.
Why many self driving semi trucks require drivers:
Even though there are extensive research and funding going into the production of these self driving vehicles, there are still a number of legitimate concerns when it comes to the overall safety of this tech. Even though Google has been using its self driving technologies since 2011 with an excellent track record, there are still more than 20 crashes involving a car with self driving.
Only one of the crashes, however, was at fault from the programming.
Trucks are one of the largest and least manoeuvrable vehicles on the road and it’s difficult for them to come to a complete stop without advanced braking. Avoiding cars or avoiding other cars on the side of the road could be a massive problem.
One of the biggest issues with adding self driving to a truck’s cab is the inclusion of the sensors. A combination of cameras and radars would have to be introduced. When placed at the height of the top of a transport truck cab, these cameras can be easily blinded by the sun.
Small read errors with the cameras could lead to issues between cars, large signs and other challenges for transport trucks in the city where there are tight turns and a consistent need to stop.
Still a long way to come:
Truck drivers are certainly not out of a job anytime soon. Until soft driving technology starts to gain more reliability, and as automated trucks begin to be utilized more often, there will still be a need for drivers inside each one of those trucks.
Most automated trucks today are considered semi-autonomous and any company will need to utilize drivers in order to test their trucks or keep them on the road. Drivers need to be in the cabs at all times as there are still a number of potentially fatal things that could go wrong with a truck when it’s given complete control with a computer.
The nature of the job description in trucking is something that’s going to evolve. As drivers one has to take on as much manual driving, the job can be similar to that of an airline pilot. The truck will be able to drive on its own, but the driver will be there to help us all feel safe and to take over manually if there’s ever a malfunction.
Even though we may be seeing many more self driving trucks on the road in the future, the job of a trucker isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.