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AUTONOMOUS TRUCKS Rules, technology to be determined

BY STEVE BRAWNER Contributing Writer

In 2007, the first iPhone went on sale.

By 2015, according to the Pew Research Center, 68% of American adults owned a smartphone. In 2015, an autonomous truck drove itself across the Hoover Dam with two people on board.

Does that mean that, in less than

a decade, the trucking industry will be dominated by autonomous trucks? Probably not, but a recent study by McKinsey & Company projected that, by 2025, at least one of every three new heavy trucks will be either fully autonomous or have a high level of autonomy today. We’re still at the phase where those trucks produce more questions than answers. How quickly will the motor carrier industry follow the cell phone industry’s example and adopt the new technology? How must the regulatory climate change? And what other challenges will remain? Autonomous technology has been around a long time – think cruise control – and has spread to mechanical systems throughout trucks in recent years. Today’s trucks have lane departure warning systems, automatic braking, and will even inflate the tires on the road. Other industries, such as mining, have used self-driving vehicles that operate in off-road situations for years. But in May 2015, the technology advanced to a new level when Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval granted the first license for an autonomous commercial truck to drive on an American public highway. To introduce

8 BEHIND THE WHEEL — Q4 Winter 2016

the technology, Daimler Trucks North America rented the Hoover Dam, and a Freightliner Inspiration drove itself across it. A video accompanying the event featured a driver letting go of the wheel to work on a tablet. Martin Daum, president and CEO, said in a speech then that the technology would change the duties of the commercial driver. “He [will] become a logistics manager while driving,” he said. With a special permit from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck can


But Daimler also says it will be years before the trucks will be on the road. ATA annual meeting in Las Vegas in October 2016, the organization announced it was upgrading its Automated Truck Task Force to a sub-committee. In his address to the members, ATA president & CEO Chris Spear stressed the need for the trucking industry to keep abreast of autonomous vehicle and truck platooning innovation. “The trucking industry loses $49.6 billion each year to congestion”, said

be driven on public roads near Las Vegas. The truck operates under what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines as a Level 3 capability, meaning the driver can cede control in certain conditions. The truck has sensors, camera technology and radar systems that allow it to maintain speed, remain in the lane, and keep a safe distance from other vehicles. The driver is in control of highway exits, driving on local roads and

Spear; investing in the new technology “has the potential to get trucks moving, reduce fuel burn and emissions, and increase miles driven.” “Platooning”, where one truck is electronically driven 30-50 feet behind another (a distance that human drivers cannot safely maintain), is likely to be an early technology adopted because it does not require major infrastructure improvements. Ted Scott, ATA director of engineering, noted platooning has

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