To some, the trucking industry is one that’s steeped in tradition, run by veterans of the industry, and not likely to change. However, recent advances in technology stand to put this perception on its head as trucking embraces recent innovations that very well may revolutionize the way this mode of transportation operates.
We’ll take a closer look at three of these areas of rapid innovation in recent years. Each has the potential to significantly impact the way over-the-road transportation operates, with potential for new efficiencies, reduced equipment downtime, better decision making, and more.
While the full implementation of some of these technologies is still years off, others are in play right now. Taken together, they could mean big changes to trucking in the next five to ten years.
#1: Self-Driving Trucks
Fully autonomous vehicles have long felt like the stuff of movies—futuristic technology that no one has yet made reality. However, recent advances are getting the industry closer to a future where trucks will be able to direct themselves to their destinations.
Automatic Safety Systems Paving the Way
If you’ve bought a new car in the last few years, you’ve gotten a taste of the advances setting the stage for self-driving trucks. Many consumer vehicles now come equipped with automatic safety systems that form part of the foundation of autonomous vehicle technology.
- One such piece of tech is lane-assist technology. Using a variety of sensors, lane-assist offers a warning to drivers when they drift across lane markers. Some even redirect the wheel to ensure the vehicle stays in its lane.
- Other vehicles feature forward collision warning, to detect stationary objects ahead. In fact, Volvo Active Driver Assist comes standard in several of their trucks. This technology offers truck drivers an alert before impact, and also engages emergency braking if drivers don’t react quickly enough to avoid a collision.i
Platooning uses a “follow the leader” strategy to automate vehicles in a convoy formation. Under this strategy, two (or more) trucks drive in a line. The first truck is controlled by a human driver. Although initial tests placed a human in the following truck, in the full realization of this technology, the subsequent trucks are not staffed by humans at all. They simply follow the lead truck, leveraging sensors and cloud-based communications to maintain the proper distance.
Platooning is an attractive strategy for several reasons. It creates an obvious efficiency by allowing one driver to direct two or more trucks. It also results in fuel savings, since the following trucks experience less wind resistance and therefore consume less fuel.
The European Union has embraced the possibilities of platooning, funding a project called Ensemble to study the possibility of using this technology to move freight around Europe. Their study will look at the potential effects of platooning, including better traffic management, road safety, cost reductions, and overall efficiency. The study concludes in March 2022.
And then there are the companies who are actually piloting the future of self-driving trucks.
Small Steps Toward a Big Future
Some still doubt the future of fully autonomous vehicles, citing safety concerns. However, plenty are tackling the challenges from different angles. For example, Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (acquired by autonomous vehicle startup Aurora Innovation in late 2020) once envisioned autonomous trucks only driving highway miles between transfer hubs. In their vision, humans took over to handle the final miles through densely-populated areas.ii
In fact, Aurora has already started putting the rubber to the road in Texas as part of a pilot program. Their self-driving trucks, which always have two vehicle safety operators on board, are moving freight for Barcel, maker of Takis spicy tortilla chips, between locations in Dallas, Palmer, and Houston.iii The company plans to launch a full autonomous trucking business by the end of 2023.
Kodiak Robotics and Waymo have also been executing projects of their own, using the Southwest to test their self-driving trucks. Rather than pursuing Level 5 autonomy—fully automated driving with no human intervention ever required—the companies are focused on Level 4. Under Level 4 autonomy, the vehicle drives itself only under specific conditions, such as open highway driving. However, under other circumstances, like busy city streets, the driver is required to maneuver the vehicle. Additionally, a driver can always take control of the system as needed.
In other words, self-driving trucks are closer than many think, and Level 4 freight deliveries may soon become more and more common.
#2: The Internet of Things—IoT Technology
IoT devices have a lot to offer the trucking industry. These Internet-connected devices have the power to transmit all kinds of data for managing and optimizing supply chains, especially where over-the-road freight is concerned.
Precise Location Tracking
On the most basic level, IoT devices can solve a common problem in the logistics industry: Where exactly is my freight and when can I expect it to arrive? By offering precise location tracking, it’s possible to offer customers more accurate updates—and reroute trucks as needed when problems arise to reduce late deliveries.
IoT devices can also reassure customers that freight is handled properly along its journey. Devices can monitor factors like temperature and humidity which can be important to customers shipping agricultural products as well as high-end alcohol.
Available Cargo Space
Some trucking companies are also using cargo sensors to detect available trailer space in real-time. Using this information, they can arrange for pick-ups along a truck’s delivery route to optimize cargo movement and reduce driving miles.
Finally, some companies are installing IoT devices on their trucks to detect the need for maintenance to prevent breakdowns. Volvo in particular has been a front-runner in this arena with its Remote Diagnostics system. Sensors on their trucks transmit several metrics, including engine and transmission performance, to their Uptime network. If problems are detected, drivers are connected to the Volvo Uptime Center in Greensboro, NC to discuss options for addressing these issues. The program has reduced the average repair time by 24% and the average diagnostic time by 71%.iv
Now, all this IoT technology generates a lot of data, and there’s even more technology to help shippers, carriers, and supply chain managers figure out what to do with all of it.
#3: Big Data & AI Technology
Analytics and the ability to make data-driven decisions is a hot topic in transportation and logistics. Given all the data that IoT devices can deliver, it’s easy to see how the ability to collect, parse, and analyze it would be useful to the trucking industry. However, there’s another side to all this data collection. With so many stats and metrics available, it becomes difficult to display and analyze it in a meaningful way that drives critical decisions.
As a result, some companies are looking toward analytics programs that leverage artificial intelligence technology to analyze all the input—and make predictions based on past metrics.
Despite its benefits, only a small portion of the logistics industry is currently employing AI technology. A current estimate from AI platform developer Transmetrics put that number at 12%. However, they also predict adoption will jump quickly, leaping to 60% by 2025.v
By taking into account a number of critical factors—current trailer capacity, traffic data, warehouse lead time, and more—AI-driven dashboards can produce a series of routing options, each with a predicted arrival time.
Procurement and Fulfillment
By analyzing past data, AI technology can assist with demand planning. For example, AI-backed software can predict what products or supplies will be needed and where, analyze current stock levels, then route deliveries as needed. Additionally, AI technology can also recommend re-routing in response to fluctuations in demand—or even traffic patterns.
By leveraging massive data sets that are too complex for the human brain to process, AI can offer predictions and recommendations that will create new efficiencies and significantly impact how freight moves over the road.
What’s Next for the Trucking Industry?
While many of these innovations are currently on the road, others, like fully autonomous trucks, are still in their testing phases. However, as technology continues to advance—and build on previous innovations—it’s clear that trucking companies, shippers, and consumers alike will continue to benefit from the increased transparency and efficiencies that will result.
Putting together an over-the-road freight plan for your organization? One of our experts would be happy to help! Just reach out for a free consultation to get started.
III. https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/30/aurora-shines-spotlight-on-autonomous-truck-tech-strategy-ahead-of-spac-merger/; https://techcrunch.com/2021/12/15/aurora-self-driving-trucks-are-using-uber-freight-to-haul-goods-for-customers
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