Self-Driving Trucks Will Be a Game-changer for Commercial Transport

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Out of all of the exciting and potentially revolutionary innovations currently under development for the benefit of commercial firms, few could be as game changing as the research done towards making driverless vehicles not just a reality, but something that is widespread on roads across the world. Pioneered by some of the world's leading tech firms such as Tesla and Google in the USA, and by Didi Chuxing and others in China, self-driving 'smart' vehicles could redefine commercial transport as human drivers make way for specially designed systems that require no such manual handling. Rather, a combination of on-board sensors and a connection to a single central brain would be responsible for all aspects of a vehicle's journey-simultaneously monitoring the condition of the vehicle, assessing upcoming traffic patterns and (most crucially) the behaviour of other nearby vehicles with the capability to react faster than any human should danger arise.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that the UK Government amongst others has thrown their support behind such technology, when the long-term benefits of this development are so numerous. True in the short-term many human logistics drivers may be made redundant due to increased automation, but this is hardly a concern unique to just one particular career path. Indeed the rationale for this occurrence is rather simple, as whereas humans need to frequently rest, self-driving trucks can run almost non-stop, leaving aside time for refuelling and maintenance checks. Rather than battle their way past other commuters on a daily basis, we may indeed see commercial goods be moved around more at night when the roads are far less congested, speeding up the time needed to complete deliveries whilst reducing the amount of fuel burned due to the 'stop-start' motion that occurs in heavy traffic.

Whilst it should be taken into consideration that there are of course many human drivers more than willing to make these long nighttime drives, the fact of the matter is that they are prone to fatigue unlike a machine which if looked after properly should constantly function at 100%. With tiredness contributing to roughly 20% of road accidents, it makes sense to opt for the more reliable alternative. That's not to mention the reaction speeds and predictive capabilities of the built-in instruments, which could both in theory and practice avoid crashes no human could respond to so instantaneously.

It is interesting to see as well the various directions research into autonomous trucks has yielded, with one such popular approach being the idea of 'platooning'. This is a concept which we see a number of smart vehicles travelling close together in a convoy, being controlled as a collective unit by one computer. Speeding up, slowing down, and reacting as one, the platoon can stick together out of the way of other traffic which will not have to deal with so many sizable obstacles dotted in their path-improving traffic flow for all involved. This level of co-ordination can be optimised to incredibly precise levels, so as to reduce drag and air resistance, and subsequently improve fuel efficiency.

Against a backdrop of commercial driver shortages as well, the aforementioned issue of job losses may in fact be negated or at the least reduced by this new technology. Vehicles that can operate independent of human input could greatly reduce the impact from the UK being approximately 60,000 drivers short, mitigating the shortfall. When we consider as well that these vehicles will take some time be properly integrated as a mainstay of businesses' operations, it provides firms with the time to possibly retrain their current drivers into other roles to support the trucks. 

The real value of self-driving trucks isn't likely to come overnight, and will probably be a gradual process which comes along at a fairly slow pace as new inventions and innovations take the place of existing features. Price may be a prohibitive factor initially for all but the biggest companies. but as we saw with once luxury add-ons such as SatNav's, eventually costs fall to the point where simple but functional variants can be had at a very affordable rate. Given the tremendous amount of funding and resources being put into the competition to lead the market in driverless vehicles, commercial customers will almost certainly feel the benefits as internationally renowned brands fight it out for their affection and cash.

 

 

 

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Tuesday, 13 November 2018
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