How Soon Before Robot Trucks Roam Our Highways and Byways?

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You might be surprised to learn they are already here.

Like many automotive-related stories, the mainstream media brings the public what they can most easily relate to. When it comes to automated vehicles, the stories we hear daily are about passenger cars and how you will no longer need to drive when you purchase your next car. The truth may be a bit different. For one thing, self-driving cars are going to be very expensive.

John Hanson, TRI’s Toyota Advanced Technology Communications spokesperson, told BestRide recently that almost all self-driving vehicles will need to be electrified in some way, either as hybrids or plug-in EVs. The reason is power. The multitude of sensors and data processors required to operate an autonomous vehicle require more power than any conventional car has available. Those sensors and data processors are also quite pricey. Bear in mind automakers are still charging us $1200 for a Nav system we could buy at Radio shack for a hundred bucks. They aren’t going to give this technology away.

However, there is a very common vehicle on the road today that does have an abundance of power, and in which an expensive automation system would be just a small percentage cost adder. Commercial trucks. Commercial trucking companies also would love to rid themselves of the single most expensive line item in their budget – the driver.

Drivers require things like biology breaks and sleep, those slackers. Automated trucks never do. And every so often, truckers do stupid things, like take drugs and drive across the country high. Even the most responsible drivers need pay, health care, and all those costs are then rolled up and taxed as payroll taxes. Imagine the savings to a trucking company if those hundreds of thousands of dollars per driver and all that bad behavior could be eliminated. You can bet the trucking companies have.

Autonomous trucks are here now. The first delivery by a big-rig happened six months ago. Of course, it was a beer delivery. The company that delivered the beer says we need not fear the drier will lose a job since he or she is still needed to load and unload the truck at its destination. You believe that, right?

 

In addition to the dollars and cents angles on automated commercial trucks, there is an environmental upside as well. Aaron Turpen, former big-rig driver and trucks contributor to NewAtlas.com, says, “I believe we’ll see autonomy in commercial vehicles well before we see truly self-driving passenger cars. The impacts and savings for commercial uses are far higher.”

Volvo, one of the world’s largest producers of commercial trucks agrees and says of driverless trucks, “The autonomous truck also offers major environmental upsides. Gear changing, steering and speed are constantly optimized for low fuel consumption and emissions.” Volvo’s Lars Stenqvist, Chief Technology Officer, Volvo Group, also found that, since the operator does not have to climb up into and then jump back down from the cab, “One important benefit of the new technology is a reduction in the risk of occupational injuries, such as wear in knee joints – otherwise a common ailment among staff working with refuse collection.”

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John Goreham

John Goreham