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Trucking In The 21st Century

As trucks and cars are continually redesigned with advances new sensors and technologies, we are likely to see a future where how vehicles interact with each other on the road is dramatically different from how they operate on the road today.

Perhaps even as close to 10 years from now, vehicles going down the road will also look quite different. Still, they will likely continue to have drivers. Where the true innovation will come from is in the technologies that are being built into new vehicles. A new generation of smart vehicles will be wirelessly connected and come preloaded with impressive components.

Experts believe that the capabilities of these technologies represent exponential change within the truck market. Whether you’re talking about improved cost savings, safety, efficiency, visibility or more, the trucking industry could see itself fundamentally changed from the inside out.

There are essentially three technologies that are at the forefront of this change. They are:

  • Vehicle connectivity
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Autonomous operating systems

Certain aspects of these technologies can already be found on trucks of today. As they continue to evolve, they will only become more complex, capable and powerful.

Imagine a semi-truck that can broadcast and receive data anywhere and at any time. Each of these systems, as they are integrated, will feed off each other and further increase their operational value.

Big rigs of the future may essentially turn into giant, rolling computers with self-monitoring and remote maintenance capabilities. Vehicles will be able to communicate with operators, other vehicles and even the road itself.

This real-time flow of information will have spillover effects all up and down the supply chain. As a result, the trucking industry will benefit from telematics capabilities and big data number crunches. But how will the industry cope with all this change?

Integrating the Technologies

While there will be plenty of change happening under the hood and in the cab, the appearance of the truck will remain relatively the same. This is simply a cause of the aerodynamic and body construction methods of today. They still work.

Don’t expect a tractor that looks like a space ship. Their look will evolve, but their basic shape will stay the same. The most important things are what the new vehicles will be capable of. Not only will they meet green standards but they will be more business-friendly.

One of the great drivers of new technology is a fleet’s desire to control fuel costs. Fuel remains a motor carrier’s biggest operational cost. As a result, expect to see a greater adoption of electric powertrains over the next decade.

Powertrain enhancements will also become more commonplace as the drive for greater technological integration continues. This integration will be required if a vehicle is to make it through daily operations on a “smart” system.

For these new components to function together, improvements in communication will have to follow. Cameras, sensors, radar and other onboard systems will have to share data and operate with other systems, as one fully integrated vehicle.

What This Will Look Like

Imagine a future where the vehicle you are operating can track moving and stationary objects in real time. Then the system feeds that data into the automated manual transmission. After the onboard computer has gathered data from the GPS, mapping, internal route and other systems, it can make decisions far faster than even a human’s reaction time.

It is likely that soon, truck drivers will be interacting with their vehicles in this fashion. Other variations come on the form of fuel management.

Future big rigs will be able to actively advise their operators on the best routes, optimal operating conditions and more. If there is a maintenance problem, the vehicle can immediately alert the operator and dispatch over a cellular system.

We will likely see this in the form of fully integrated truck driver infotainment systems. These in-dash units will eventually replace aftermarket units. They will empower truck drivers in truly game changing ways.

Taking a Closer Look at Connectivity

But is integration the total answer? Perhaps the real game-changer is connectivity. We’re talking about a Class 8 vehicle acting like a giant mobile data collection and analysis center. This could represent a new wave of trucking technology, and the best part is that a truck driver will still be required.

Future trucks will be more interconnected than ever, but will still require human input in order to get the job done. Even specific components within these vehicles will be able to talk to other components and other vehicles.

These developments will represent a new frontier in safety, efficiency, comfort and longevity. Once the process of transforming these into dive-by-wire systems is complete, a new era in trucking will have arrived.

Systems like these are often referred to as intelligent mechanical systems. When you have sensor and laser systems working in concert with environmental recognition and control systems, the possibilities are endless. Throw in artificial intelligence and supercomputing technologies, cloud storage and broadband communication, and nearly anything is possible.

The Shift Into a New Century

What is likely to cause a major shift in the industry will not be how these technologies impact truck drivers, but how fleets view their trucks under the new regime. Motor carriers will go from asking what they can do with a truck to asking what a truck will do for them.

Trucking is a vital industry, though some may say boring. Yet now trucking will lay claim to some of the most innovative and advanced technologies around. Huge tech players like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are getting into the game. New upstarts are changing the way trucks are manufactures.

Suddenly trucking has become technologically cutting-edge. And while new trucks are already equipped with sensors and advanced technology, what we are seeing now will be unlike anything we see in the future. Some would say trucking is somewhat outdated and inefficient. Will technology change all that?

The fact is this: As sensors and computers built into trucks explode in numbers, modern telematics and big data systems will provide a level of insight and actionable data like we’ve never seen before. Consider that technicians don’t blink an eye about sensors on fuel pumps, oil coolers or radiators and other components. In the future, it will be unthinkable to be operating with a truck that doesn’t contain sensors or data transmission capabilities.

Daimler reports that their European models already come built-in with over 400 sensors. They are also fully wirelessly connected with software that includes hundreds of millions of lines of code. That’s more than an airliner.

How Far Will This Go?

The massive number of sensors and advanced systems is going to continue evolving. Could it be that we may even see a day when sensors are on truck drivers and freight themselves? From monitoring for sleepiness to ensuring reefer cargo is adequately cooled, there’s going to be a sea change in vehicle monitoring and tracking.

The information collected and shared by trucks should only make for safer roads and more efficient flows of traffic. Shipments will arrive with full transparency from all sides. Whether the fleet, truck driver or law enforcement needs to know what’s on route, they will be able to access that information in real time.

Expect additional component streamlining to occur as well. Back in the day, truck and engine makers needed to constantly recertify when they installed a new electronic control module or aftermarket exhaust treatment.

Today, ECMs and more are added with regularity. As data from GPS systems and other onboard components explodes at an exponential rate, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to say that the number of onboard sensors is likely to explode as well.

Cloud integration will reduce the need for trucks to have onboard memory capacity or data sharing capabilities.  As more and more commercial motor vehicles arrive with these technologies installed, more and more users both within and without trucking will be able to access and leverage a truck’s data.

As one example, imagine a municipality sees many lane departure warnings from a certain part of the highway. With this information, they may surmise that a pothole needs to be repaired. Shock system sensors might also record valuable, actionable data. Even better, when a problem is pinpointed, it will be accurate in its targeting down to a specific mile marker.

When it comes to freight, motor carriers will better be able to provide solid, real-time scheduling information based on weather, traffic conditions and more. This can be updated as the vehicle is traveling towards the drop-off point.

As technology continues to revolutionize the trucking industry, these changes will herald a new era. The legacy ways that trucking does business will fundamentally change forever. And we will still utilize truck drivers, fleet technicians and just about anyone else who has a stake in the freight game.

Will your fleet be ready when the time comes? Are you investing in your future by preparing for the coming change? If not you might be caught flat-footed.

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