In October 2016, thousands of beer drinkers in Colorado Springs were drinking cold cans of Budweiser that had been transported on the highway by a self-driving robot. That’s right…for the majority of the 120-mile trip from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, the driver of the truck left his seat and got comfortable in the sleeper berth while the huge 53-foot trailer loaded with two thousands cases of beer cruised down the highway with no human at the wheel.
Self-driving truck company Otto partnered with Anheuser-Busch for this visionary project, which proved successful. For the time being, Otto’s self-driving technology is confined to highways, demanding that human drivers take the wheel in city traffic. Both companies are now planning to test additional self-driving tests in 2017.
Otto was founded in early 2016 by Ron and Anthony Levandowski who cut their industry teeth with Google Car. The company was sold to Uber in August 2016 for $670 million, signaling Uber’s intent to lead the self-driving tech industry.
Otto’s focus is to develop an aftermarket package of radar and camera sensors that, when connected to the company’s self-driving software, will enable 2.5 million US truckers to stay on the road longer and improve performance by allowing drivers to rest, while the truck continues driving.
According to the American Trucking Associations, in 2015, the US trucking industry generated $726 billion in revenue and accounted for 81% of all freight transport. This makes the trucking industry an attractive target for high-tech solutions to increase efficiency and bolster profits.
While self-driving technology may be several years from mainstream use, Peloton Technology is currently planning to introduce platooning technology in Ohio in the coming months. What is “platooning”, you ask? Platooning is when two semi-autonomous commercial trucks follow each other in close proximity on the highway. Both trucks are in constant electronic communication with each other, providing instant feedback on braking and speed, allowing both trucks to travel close together, reducing fuel consumption and reducing wind resistance.
Peloton has advised that their truck pairs follow about 50 feet behind one another and have forward collision avoidance systems and a driver in each truck cab to steer the vehicles. Peloton plans to develop logistics agreements with freight lines in Ohio.
Michigan has also passed legislation that will allow the operation of autonomous vehicles, expanding the previous regulations that allowed only vehicle testing. The bill also allows automated vehicle platoons and governs autonomous vehicles as well.
While the initial efforts are focused only on improving safety, what’s clear is that automated vehicles will transform the commercial trucking industry. Initial estimates demonstrate that platooning technology will save 20% or more in fuel costs. These savings will continue to push the industry toward increased automated technology.
Are Self-Driving Trucks the Future of the Logistics Industry?
While it’s too early to know if this technology will reduce the need for drivers, the advance of platooning and self-driving trucks signals a seismic shift that will revolutionize the commercial trucking industry. Progress always moves in a single direction…FORWARD. And while there exist many critical concerns in the minds of industry leaders and employees, there is also much to look FORWARD to.