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Autonomous Truck Technology Hits the Open Road

A fleet of autonomous trucks

It was only a matter of time before artificial intelligence applications were applied to passenger vehicles. And of course, after that, it was inevitable that the technology would be integrated into the trucking industry. But while there are currently no autonomous trucking companies with fleets of vehicles run by AI, autonomous truck technology is here.

Trucks are the wheeled workhorses of the open road and the backbone of the American economy. Industries like manufacturing, construction, agriculture, as well as consumer goods all rely on trucks and their ability to deliver. Sixty-nine percent of freight nowadays are being moved by trucks. Trucks have been keeping up with the expectations as far as freight tonnage share is concerned. In fact, in June 2018, a total of $66.6 billion worth of freight was moved by trucks. By the year 2025, the trucking industry is expecting to increase the freight tonnage share to 71.4%. With the introduction of autonomous truck technology, the king of the open road is ready to take on the challenge.

The History of Trucking in the US

The 70s was the golden age of trucking. This decade witnessed the rise of the “trucker culture” that spawned songs and movies depicting truck drivers as modern-day cowboys and outlaws. Similarly, trucker hats, plaid shirts, and citizen’s band (CB) radio slang also became so popular.

a truck driver shocked to find autonomous trucks on the road
It was only a matter of time before artificial intelligence applications were applied to the trucking industry.

The trucking industry began carving its importance in the political and economic history of the country around the time mass production was picking up. At the turn of the 20th century, the supply and demand for goods and commodities were increasing. This resulted in an increase in the need for transport services that will move the products from producers to consumers.

The next major boost for the trucking industry occurred with the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1960s. With freeways and interconnected highways traversing through North America, trucks positioned itself as the preferred mode of freight transportation. Today, trucking is at the cusp of a new era. Through the use of autonomous truck technology, the industry aims to stay relevant in the digital and information technology age.

Autonomous Truck Technology: Supercharging the Trucking Industry

Disruption knows no boundaries. Trends and movements like robotics, artificial intelligence, and digitalization have upended various industries. A number of startups have emerged and introduced autonomous truck technology to their fleet.

    1. TuSimple’s mission of bringing commercially viable self-driving truck hinge on the goals of increasing road safety, reducing transportation costs and minimizing carbon footprint.  Currently, TuSimple has already deployed a level 4 self-driving delivery truck transporting goods from one distribution center to another.
    2. Embark, Electrolux, and Ryder are collaborating in testing and developing autonomous driving trucks that can be put out in the real world. The company aims to deploy 40 more Peterbilt trucks fitted with Embark’s sensor suite by the end of 2019.

  1. Tesla’s Big Rig goes by the name Semi – a speed beast that can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 20 seconds, fully loaded. Semi is an all-electric battery-powered Class 8 semi-trailer truck with a mile range of 300-500 miles. While Tesla is already using prototypes of Semi for car deliveries, the production for orders will commence in 2020.
  2. Kodiak Robotics is another startup joining the autonomous truck technology space. Securing a $40 million Series A Financing in 2018, Kodiak aims to help the freight industry. The company plans to develop autonomous driving trucks by combining light detection, LiDAR, Camera, and Sonar technologies.
  3. Waymo, the autonomous driving segment of the tech-giant Alphabet is poised to expand its scope by deploying autonomous truck technology Waymo is testing the technology within the corporate circle with deliveries to Google’s data centers in Atlanta.

Self-Disruption: Automotive Companies Respond to Autonomous Truck Technology

There are, as of yet, autonomous trucking companies, i.e., companies with wholly autonomous vehicles. But truck makers have responded to autonomous truck technology by embracing and growing their own expertise around autonomous driving trucks. Recently, Volvo introduced Vera – a round-the-clock system for transporting goods. Vera has the potential to accommodate the highly-repetitive, short distance transport of large volume goods in ports, factory and warehouses. Late in 2018, Ford unveiled F-Vision Future Truck, a futuristic semi which marks the company’s foray in the autonomous truck technology. Daimler takes another route by investing in Torc Robotics. The robotics firm was tasked to create the technology for automated trucks.

Undoubtedly, trucks play a vital role in the economic development of a nation. While the movement of goods all depends upon trucks, a host of challenges besiege the industry. The application of autonomous truck technology will hopefully address challenges such as driver shortage, safety, and delivery efficiency.


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