Robots on the Road?

Posted by Harriet Mills on May 31, 2019 12:14:05 PM

Reminder: the International CVSA (Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance) road checks begin June 4-6. Capacity may be tight during this time so book your loads early! 

driving the future1


Today is National Autonomous Vehicle Day, according to the Registrar at National Day Calendar’s website which declared it so in 2017. May 31 is now the day to observe and celebrate the development of autonomous vehicles, including cars, trucks and even drones.

I suspect that this day will have more significance as time goes by, but it had me thinking … what is the latest news surrounding autonomous trucks, one of the biggest disruptors in our industry, in our lifetime?

When the discussion started in earnest several years ago, the sensational headlines were everywhere. They portrayed the  materialization of autonomous vehicles as happening overnight. For example, one UK media outlet headline read, Fully driverless cars could run on UK roads by end of the year.

The truth is that autonomous cars will dominate the road before the emergence of fully autonomous trucks, although there are good reasons the commercial truck market will be pushing for change just as aggressively, if not more so.

A distinction that few are talking about is that car manufacturers primary goal is to achieve Level 5 autonomy as quickly as possible, which translates into full automation (see standardized levels of automation from SAE International J3016). Truck manufacturers, on the other hand, see the advancements as a gradual process, adding technologies as they become refined for heightened safety, better fuel efficiency, extended run times and more. Level 4 is their goal post, at least for now.

autonomoustruckWhat are some of the obstacles to progress?

There are several reasons why the initial excitement has waned and the projected timeline for research and development has grown regarding autonomous vehicles. This is especially true when it comes to heavy-duty trucks versus cars.  There are mechanical, as well as, situational impediments. Here are just a few challenges:

  • Stop Times: Trucks are heavy and stop times are much greater than with cars.
  • Start Times: Acceleration is another factor. It takes much more time for an electric truck to ramp up to 60 mph than it does a car.
  • Preparing for the Unexpected: The need to quickly swerve to avoid an accident is bound to create challenges for cars, but even more so for an 80,000-pound truck and cargo.
  • Testing areas: Where to safely test these heavyweights is another predicament. Currently, there are ten official testing sites designated by the US Department of Transportation. Nevada, Florida and Michigan are considered to be truck-friendly states with lenient autonomous regulations. Other states, such as North Dakota, are favored for their “friendly autonomous corridors.” Cities such as Pittsburgh and San Diego are already testing autonomous vehicles.
  • Enforcement and Regulations: Figuring out a way to have regulations and their enforcement catch up with these advancements in technology will be a monumental task.
  • Infrastructure Needs: Building enough power stations with the ability to service multiple trucks will take time. Also, these stations need to handle the amount of charge required for big rigs.

Why is there a push for autonomous vehicles?

The U.S. truckload freight market is a 700 billion dollar industry.  Several factors come into play when looking at the reasons behind companies pushing for automation.

  • Cost Savings: Morgan Stanley estimates that going autonomous will save the freight industry more than 170 billion dollars a year in labor, fuel, production and accident costs. Consumers should see a decrease in transportation costs for goods, making food and essentials cheaper in the marketplace. And even though some jobs will be lost due to automation, in the case of trucks, drivers still need to be on board for Level 4 vehicles.
  • Safety: More than 3,900 deaths annually are attributed to accidents involving tractor-trailer trucks, with approximately 110,000 injuries. Autonomous vehicle manufacturers hope to significantly decrease these numbers by implementing sensors and fail-safes to avoid such accidents.
  • Time Savings: We live in a culture of same-day and one-day deliveries. Shopping no longer requires us to go to the store. Expectations are high and will become even more demanding as technology advances. Pairing robotic warehouses with autonomous vehicles will take us into a new era.


No matter what the challenges, progress will be inevitable. The demands for AI (Artificial Intelligence), 3-D printing, robotics and autonomous vehicles are too great to presume that these technologies won’t become a reality in the next 10-20 years. I can just imagine a highway full of last-mile deliveries made up of autonomous crates on wheels, mid-sized trucks and small packages buzzing around on their way to their destinations. Hold on to your seat belts!

What are your thoughts on the future of autonomous vehicles? Will they make our lives better or worse? Post your comments below. 

Related Articles:

7 most amazing trucks

MIT Technology Review

First self- driving truck experiment Level4


Tags: Technology, Industry News