With all the recent talk of platooning and self-driving trucks, you would think the age of automation is already upon us. Well don’t start worrying about your jobs, we are still in the infancy of an industry, and the country – dare we say, the world – will be needing hard-working truck drivers like yourself for a long time to come.
That being said, both manufacturers and industry players are preparing themselves for a time when vehicle automation plays an ever-increasing role in how fleets, shippers and operators get their job done. The story starts in the self-driving truck.
Stranger Than Fiction
As someone once said, the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Self-driving trucks, which were once widely beleaguered to the realm of science fiction, are rapidly turning into science fact. Both OEMs and fleets are partnering up to both research and demonstrate how truck automation will look in the not-too-distant future.
Even so, the current focus stands more on driver-assisted variants, rather than truly autonomous trucks. For 80,000 pound semis with no driver to hit the road, the nation’s infrastructure would need some serious overhauls. After all, it’s hard to have smart vehicles if you don’t have smart highways to go along with them.
In the developed market, the manufacturers are heavily pushing new technologies such as automated steering and braking technology. Vehicle sensors are much more advanced than they were even a decade ago.
For many, this vision does not foretell a future where hard-working people are displaced. No, instead this trend could lead to an era where connected trucks communicate with the highway and vehicles around them to more safely and efficiently move freight, while also helping with truck driver work load and fuel efficiency efforts.
As the market continues to mature, expect to see advanced driver-assist features to take center stage. Everything from traffic-jam assistance to second and third-generation platooning technologies will become much more widely dispersed in the coming 5 to 10 years.
All of this comes at a time when self-driving passenger cars continue to emerge on the commercial market. Whether it be a feature like parallel parking assistance or various versions of “autopilot” almost every major car manufacturer is getting in on the game.
What’s next depends on what has been learned up to now. Daimler has come a long way in the two years since they unveiled their Highway Pilot Future Truck concept in Germany in 2014. In March, Daimler demonstrated a connected version that allows three semi-autonomous trucks to safely form a platoon as they made their way down the autobahn.
Today, the company is adding more sensor and control redundancies. They have also made great strides in increasing the number of what the industry refers to as “use cases” that the truck can deal with. These are situations on the road that the vehicle may encounter during normal driving. Ensuring the system can recognize the highest number of driving situations as possible increases its value by orders of magnitude.
GPS and Active Braking
Peterbilt Motors Co. has gotten in on the came with a self-driving prototype that uses a GPS-based navigation system. The system is able to learn routes and repeat them with relative ease.
The modified Model 579 also makes use of an automated steering system. The company openly states that they are focusing specifically on driver-assist technologies. They want to help make the truck driver safer and more efficient, not eliminate them.
Other aspects they are focusing on include active and adaptive braking systems that are tied into smart cruise control and active throttle setups. These advanced systems talk to each other at the speed of an electron and can make decisions within a fraction of the second – far faster than a human would be able to.
Still, these systems cannot yet handle complex driving situations, such as through a new route or around a complex construction scene with uneven roads or cones. As to how much these technologies evolve and what ultimate role the driver plays, only time will tell.