Soon to be a reality. A driver drives a truck to a certain point on the motorway in the Netherlands. There it comes out. This fold then drives the trailer completely independently to a similar case from Leon. There, another driver enters and leads the group to the destination address.
A number of truck manufacturers and a few startups are currently busy developing these semi-automatic trucks. Rosa Thuis, a fourth-year student in international logistics engineering at Avance University of Applied Sciences in Breda, has researched the benefits of autonomous trucks.
Full driving automation (Level 5), in which the car performs all driving tasks by itself, without human intervention and even without space for a human driver, is currently not possible. Its infrastructure has not yet been adapted. Not all kinds of laws, rules and provisions have yet been adopted. However, semi-autonomous trucks already exist. Volvo is currently developing the Vera, which is a level 5 autonomous electric vehicle in which there is no longer even a driver’s cabin. It is designed to drive on a predetermined road. The vehicle is being tested in Gothenburg on a road transported goods from a logistics center to a port terminal. Einride, another Swedish company, is developing a fully autonomous truck. As with the Vera, there is nowhere for the driver. Here the driver can still control the car via remote control.
The driver will continue to drive himself for some time
Such a fully autonomous Level 5 vehicle is not a target for most manufacturers. Most developers focus on Level 4. The vehicle can handle all driving tasks, but the driver can still intervene on his own. It is also possible for the system to take control of the vehicle on the highway, but the driver himself will take the lead again for the road to the final destination.
Auto manufacturer Tesla is focusing on Autonomous Level 3 in developing a semi-autonomous truck. Additionally, the vehicle can perform most tasks, but human control is still essential. The systems in Level 2 can already be seen in daily practice; the truck has fully adaptive cruise control, proactive lane centering, and automatic emergency braking.
High road safety
But why do companies want such an autonomous truck? One reason for this is the increased road safety. In the Netherlands alone, 17 truck groups suffer an accident or breakdown due to technical problems every day. Between 2009 and 2018, there were an average of 80 road deaths per year with an articulated truck. If all trucks were autonomous, the “human error” factor – like a small sleep behind the wheel or operator error – would be eliminated.
But before autonomous vehicles can increase driving safety, they must undergo extensive testing. Because only if they don’t make mistakes can they increase road safety. Another advantage of autonomous trucks is that the costs are lower. At level 4, for example, fewer driver breaks are required.
With fully autonomous trucks, there are no additional driver costs whatsoever. In addition, such a vehicle can adapt to traffic faster than humans, making the journey smoother. This also reduces fuel costs. Wages and fuel together account for about 80 percent of total logistics operation costs.
With electric trucks, the battery can be used better by driving more smoothly, so it is charged less frequently. As a result, the truck should also stop less. Ideally, autonomous trucks drive between axles at night. Then there is less chance of disruptions due to reduced traffic. In combination with alternative fuels or drives, this means significant reductions in traffic noise and emissions. “Autonomous driving has the potential to increase road safety, reduce costs and reduce travel time,” Rosa Thuis says.
Development is fast
Autonomous driving trucks are now rapidly being developed. In the United States, these trucks actually drive a few places. Tu Simple completed five flights in two weeks, with USPS trailers transporting more than 800 miles.
Thanks to these innovations, all kinds of driving support functions are also available for the current generation of trucks. This includes adaptive cruise control, automatic lane mapping and engine management systems to improve driving. But also the cameras that replace the mirrors. In addition, there will be technologies such as lidar and autonomous control. “These features support the driver and mean more safety, economy and efficiency,” says Rosa Thuis. “The next step might be to change the driver’s role. He controls only a few parts of the journey and leaves the rest of the transport path to the system.”
The development of a reliable self-driving vehicle is one thing. However, much remains to be done. For example, infrastructure modifications are required. Control systems must be established. Legislation and regulations are needed. “There are many reasons why this development will be of great benefit to society from a social, environmental, technical and economic point of view,” Rosa Thuis says. On the other hand, this is likely to provoke resistance from some. Overcoming this resistance could be the biggest challenge in achieving this development. “
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