Whilst headlines have mostly focused on cars, automotive manufacturers, both incumbent and start-up, have invested billions in developing autonomous trucks. Significant progress has already been made.
Prototype trucks have already been driven autonomously on roads in the US, Europe and Asia. Being able to communicate with each other (so called ‘Vehicle-to-Vehicle’ technology or V2V), there is also the possibility of ‘platooning’. Trucks (and even eventually cars) will be able to travel in convoys along the motorway, drafting the vehicle in front. According to the US Department of Environment, this can create fuel cost savings of between 8-11% (Lammert et al, 2014). It is also increasingly possible to ‘harvest’ a huge amount of data from vehicles, both cars and trucks, which if analysed in a proper and timely way will result in efficiencies, mostly related to the avoidance of congestion and the reduction of fuel costs and emissions.
This paper explains what is meant by the term ‘autonomous’ and how this differs from the popular term ‘driverless’. It looks at the forces behind the development of the technology and the many barriers which will have to be overcome before it is widely adopted. It also examines in more detail ‘platooning’ and the multitude of technologies which are required to make a truck autonomous.