Waves of digital change are occurring closer and closer together. The past decade has witnessed a remarkable development of digital technologies. These technologies have provided many possibilities to go after new business opportunities. Several markets have already seen a tremendous change in the way business takes place by innovations like Uber or Airbnb. One of the markets that is to change significantly in the coming years, is the transportation market due to the introduction of autonomous trucks. These trucks yield many benefits. However, because of current legislation it is unlikely we will see self-driving vehicles any time soon.
Almost everyone has heard of Google’s plans for self-driving cars. In May 2014, the company showed their first fully autonomous car. A lot of ‘traditional’ car manufacturers have also revealed their plans for building and testing self-driving cars. Volvo and Nissan are already testing cars on the road. This week, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have revealed new concept cars during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Yet what escaped the media’s attention is the development that has taken place in the trucking world. Within 5 to 10 years, trucks are expected to drive autonomously on motor- and highways. In the Netherlands, DAF Trucks will start testing with a self-driving truck autonomously following a man-driven truck in 2015. However, Daimler has already been testing a solo autonomous driving truck in Germany: the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025.
It must be said that the Future Truck 2025 is not (yet) fully autonomous. That is because Daimler believes their future truck will have a driver. Nonetheless, their truck is capable of driving autonomously on the highway using an autopilot system, while the driver’s seat turns back so he can relax and work on his tablet. Safety is a key benefit, as self-driving trucks could help cut the number of highway accidents with trucks that kill thousands of drivers each year. Secondly, the automated trucks could increase utilization of existing infrastructure around the world as the trucks can drive closer to each other. Also, by allowing the driver to fill out paper work on the road, time is saved on arrival. Finally, self driving trucks use fuel more efficiently. Although fuel prices have dropped significantly in the last months, fuel consumption is still one of the main cost drivers for transportation. Automated cars are expected to drive more efficiently, saving fuel thus money. Besides an expected decrease in haulage costs, this will also benefit the environment due to lower emissions.
Although the benefits of self-driving trucks are evident and the technology is ready, there is still a big hurdle to overcome before we will see self-driving trucks on the road. Legislation, a problem also known from self-driving cars. Google has already been imposed to put steering wheels in their self-driving cars – although they can function without them. In many countries, the law stipulates that a human driver has to be able to retake control at any moment. If these rules remain, it is unlikely we will see self-driving vehicles any time soon.
Obviously, car manufacturers are trying to convince governments into changing these laws. It is time for other players in the transportation market to become involved in the discussion as well. The benefits for the market are evident. But if the market wants to seize these benefits, the car manufacturers could need a helping hand…