Remember the driverless trucks speeding along the highways in the X-Men movie Logan? It might have seemed kind of far-fetched at the time. However, since the movie takes place in 2029, it may be more on the mark than you think. Tech companies and truck builders are working together now to make self-driving semis a reality. Since many modern trucks work with high-tech gear such as radar and fleet management software, the foundation already exists. Even now, self-driving semis are taking test runs between California and Texas. It won’t be much longer before trucks come built to drive themselves without much help from a human driver.
Some people doubt driverless trucks safety and have job concerns, too. On the other hand, industry pros say autonomous trucks will cut freight costs and fill a need. At least we have just over a decade to iron out the details before we arrive in Logan’s future.
Self-Driving Semis Are Different From Autonomous Cars
Over the past year, the media focused on the epic failures of a few autonomous autos. Sadly, since May of 2016, 10 deaths have been attributed to self-driving cars and ones with automated driving systems. The blame fell on different issues, including a string of system glitches as well as human driver error. It’s not that self-driving car developers weren’t thorough. They’ve done their research, and the incidents occurred during testing. Those events taught semi designers valuable lessons, though. They’re going the extra mile to make their driverless trucks as safe as possible.
First, self-driving truck designers aren’t relying entirely on LIDAR to figure distances between their trucks and other objects. In fact, some are making their own versions of the laser/radar technology and others are leaving it out completely. Instead, developers are putting in multiple cameras—as many as 13. Mounted in various places throughout driverless trucks, some of the views overlap to avoid missing anything. Since studies have shown cameras are more accurate than LIDAR, using it would be excessive. Plus, it could hinder the rest of the system if it doesn’t work properly.
Then, there’s the onboard super-computer. It’s the brains of the operation. The computer sorts through all the incoming sensor data. Yes, self-driving cars have them, too. But ones in self-driving semis handle things differently. Kind of like how a certified heavy-duty truck driver learns different driving skills than people who take basic Driver’s Ed. The special computer links to the truck’s throttling, braking, and steering systems. Plus, self-driving semis have more than one way to override the self-driving program.
Money Saving Aspects of Driverless Trucks
Everyone admits it’s going to be a long time before big rigs go entirely driverless. Even once the systems prove they can do the job of a skilled driver, humans will still go for ride-alongs. They’ll keep an eye on things and handle emergencies if they arise. That’s actually one way fleets can save money with self-driving semis. Drivers will still get paid for time spent on the road. However, it would likely be a reduced rate since they won’t be doing most of the driving. That’s not all bad news for the drivers, though. They can spend some of the trip doing other things like running a side business or taking online classes.
Also, driving hour limits may not apply to self-driving trucks, even when there is a human co-pilot on board. Trucks that can be on the road around the clock, stopping only for refueling and to switch-out co-pilots, can save money as well as boost fleets’ bottom lines.
What’s more, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for heavy-duty drivers will increase by over 100,000 jobs in the next 10 years. Yet, the number of trained people willing to do the job is low. Self-driving semis would allow fleets to spend less time looking for qualified drivers and more time on the road making money.
You Can’t Entirely Eliminate the Human Element
There are a handful of issues self-driving semis can’t take care of themselves. Many of these trucks only operate on interstates and freeways. They need human co-pilots to drive them from dock to onramp, and from offramp to dock. An actual driver needs to be on board in case of system failure, but also in case of more typical emergencies such as flat tires or a mechanical issue. Pre and post-trip inspections have to be done by people, and a self-driving truck can’t hook up a trailer, either.
Self-Driving Fleets Need Fleet Management Software
Additionally, don’t forget the techs. Regular trucks or self-driving semis—both need skilled technicians for repairs and maintenance, and Fullbay is where it all comes full-circle. Fullbay fleet management software keeps techs and managers on top of PMs and repairs, especially with driverless trucks. It schedules maintenance and follow-up repairs, and it automates parts-ordering and tracks inventory. Fullbay fleet management software is the ideal tool for managing conventional and self-driving fleets.