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Examining Aspects Of Semi-Autonomous Trucks And Platooning

It’s no secret that manufacturers and industry players are getting ready for a brave new world of automation and high truck technology. At the same time, it’s been a topic of conversation for some time now. Here we are closing out the year. So how close are we to actually seeing these technologies become mainstream?

Many still believe in the ultimate outcome of this vision, but they have differing views on what it may look like. While some envision a future of trucks with no cabs, all connected through smart highways, others take a more cautious approach, seeing a future where truck drivers operate semi-autonomous trucks. So let’s take a look at how each of these aspects are doing as we move into the new year.

An Update on Platooning

If there is one area getting serious attention, it’s platooning. Many see platooning as the obvious stepping-stone on the way to semi-autonomous highway driving. In fact, you could see a form of platooning hitting a street near you. Nevada is leading the way in testing these advanced concepts.

Platooning refers to the electric linking of a tractor trailer to others in a “platoon.” Some estimates put platooning fuel savings around 4% above what you could come to expect when the trucks are all running separately.

Imagine platooning kind of like a beefed-up WiFi. It allows multiple vehicles to communicate and follow each other at a distance that increases fuel efficiency. It differs from adaptive cruise and braking system in one critical way. The trucks following behind the platoon can respond instantly to what the front truck is doing. Braking time can be reduced to almost three-thousandths of a second. In this scenario, a truck driver would still be required within the cab.

Still, platooning is not without its challenges. Some such challenges include truck driver buy-in, platoon integrity, system interoperability and security, regulatory concerns, and overall public awareness.

Semi-Autonomous and Platooning Regulations

One of the major sticking points when discussing truck platooning lies in the liability factor. If there is an accident, who is held responsible? If there is a system malfunction, perhaps the software provider is responsible. But what if there is an interoperability issue?

While some may think this is too much a burden to overcome, there are current industry safeguards in place that will allow such cases to be determined. Like we do today, we merely determine fault based on situational circumstances. Did the truck hit a pothole? Perhaps it’s road design. Did the truck catch on fire? It could be the vehicle manufacturer. Did the truck driver make an error that caused an accident? Then perhaps it should be their fault.

The fact is, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out what happened when investigating an accident, especially where platooning or semi-autonomy is concerned.

How Do Truck Drivers Fit In?

With all of the talk surrounding the truck driver shortage, some are asking how autonomous and platooning technology will affect the truck driver. Remember, few people think we are going to make some big leap into full automation anytime soon.

In some high-profile demonstrations, platooning was used on the highway as the truck driver rested or handled another duty. Then, once the vehicle enters city streets, the operator takes back over. The truck driver could also be on hand in case an emergency situation occurs.

Where platooning could help the truck driver shortage is that you can easily put an inexperienced driver in the same seat you would put a veteran. With advanced technologies in place, it would require less immediate experience to safely operate semi-autonomous commercial motor vehicles.

So when will we see full-fledged adoption on the road? And is this feasible? While all new technology is expensive and requires time to reach full adoption, there’s no reason why platooning and semi-autonomous commercial motor vehicles aren’t closer than we think.

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