Amazon is testing drones and Google is building self-driving cars. At the same time Mercedes and Volvo are each developing its own solution for moving goods by truck in a driver-less manner.
Building driver-less trucks or at least improving the truck’s autonomy in a way to improve the driver’s performance could be huge for logistics.
How big? Well, in 2012, the US logistics industry totaled $1.33 trillion, 8.5% of national GDP. In that year, truckers moved 9.4 billion tones of freight, 68.5% of all freight transported in the US (source). To say that trucking is big is really an understatement. The trucking industry is backbone of global logistics. Without it, there would be no retail as we know it.
But moving billions of tones of freight is no easy task. To do so, truckers need to eat, rest and be alert during the whole trip. The trip itself has to be as fast and as cheap as possible. Otherwise, logistics would become useless or too dangerous to drivers.
Volvo, Mercedes and others are tackling a very difficult task: how could one improve the trucking industry in a way that can replace drivers in the future, but be met with joy by said drivers. Technology may replace truckers one day but today, they are the one in charge so truck makers need to make their job as easy as possible without making it useless.
The road train
Volvo has joined European backed project SARTRE that aims to make highway driving safer with the help of road trains. Simply put, car and truck drivers can join a group lead by a professional driver. While in this highway group they can relax and the cars will do most of the work by just mimicking the leader car.
This will mean fuel efficiency, safer roads and of course longer trips which logistics companies could really use. The video below shows a demonstration on how cars can connect through wireless technology and copy the leader car movements. The technology could hit the roads as soon as 2020, if legislation is in place.
The self driving truck from Daimler
“It never gets tired. It’s always 100 percent and sharp. It’s never angry; it’s never distracted” said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the Daimler board member for trucks and buses.
This year Daimler launched a truck prototype dubbed “The Future Truck 2025”. The truck can accelerate, steer and stop by itself. It can also go up to 85 km/hour (52 miles/hour), it navigates with the help of a built in GPS system and looks a bit like a starship. The driver needs to get the truck on the highway, merge with incoming traffic and hit the “Highway Pilot” setting. From that point on, the truck driver can recline in his comfortable chair and take a break. At any point, the system can be overridden by the driver.
However, The Future Truck 2025 won’t be joining our highways for a few years from now. Legislation for self-driving cars or trucks is not yet in place but Daimler is patient enough to get us and legislators prepared for it.
Once these trucks will hit the market, drivers will be ready to carry more freight, ship orders safer and farther. Logistics companies will improve costs and will be able to increase their reach. In the end – technology will do what it has always done: make everything faster, better and cheaper.