Photo Credit: Wired
As artificial intelligence increases in modernity and practicality, its usage increases across all industries and fields, and trucking is no exception. Society is slowly warming up to the idea of self-driving cars, but self-driving semi-trucks is severely more frightening of a concept. Self-driving semis seem riskier because they’re bigger and more physically intimidating, but the technology is not as different as you might think.
United States government research facilities have allowed for the testing of self-driving vehicles nationwide. Over 12 states have rolled out programs to test the practicality and safety of self-driving trucks and ultimately the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will determine the rules and regulations. This government involvement will limit the extent of biases from specific companies.
Is Autonomous Technology Safe?
One of the main public concerns is safety. Software can often be inconsistent due to bugs and programming errors, and people tend to trust themselves more than a computer. Industry experts are even predicting that once the technology is perfected, this AI opportunity could dramatically increase safety on the roads. Humans make mistakes, and machines are typically much more consistent and predictable since they’re automatic in their decision making.
Additionally, autonomous driving comes with the added benefit of an instant reaction time, eliminating the single largest source of automotive accidents, which is human error. The number of front and back-end collisions will be reduced because this technology will monitor and maintain safe distances between vehicles.
You’re not Giving up ALL Control
While these advancements are coming at us quick, the transition definitely won’t be instantaneous. The switch to self-driving vehicles will most likely happen in smaller pieces incorporated into the current system. For the foreseeable future, automation in large scale transportation vehicles will still be overseen by a living, breathing human. There will be a tech-savvy person in the cab catching any technical errors or insights that need to be handled. This measure will mostly be a “just in case” sort of arrangement.
Theoretically, the truck should be mostly automatic, but it’s important to have a safety net, especially since these trucks will be on the roads with non-self-driving vehicles. Human error is simply something that cannot be planned for or programmed into a software, so the human presence is mostly to account for other drivers on the road and not the truck itself.
This component of the process is also important to the livelihoods of truckers everywhere. A big concern with self-driving semi-trucks is that they will put drivers out of work and damage the industry and culture that truckers have built. Since self-driving cars will still have to be monitored and accompanied by actual living people, truckers will be able to stay employed even if their job becomes slightly more automatic.
Decreasing a Driver’s Heavy Workload
One of the biggest problems in the trucking industry right now is overworked drivers. There is currently a national driver shortage that is leading to tired and overstretched days that result in decreased productivity and an increased risk of mistakes and accidents. As mentioned previously, we would be gradually easing into this new era of self-driving vehicles. That would mean that slowly, the workload for truckers would get more and more manageable as we settle into these new advancements. The exhaustion and over-exertion of the job could potentially be a thing of the past.
Companies That Are Making It Happen
There are many companies who want a place at this table. It is projected to be the future of the industry, therefore companies such as Embark and Daimler are starting to invest more and more in recent years into the process. Embark comments that self-driving semis are even more crucial to the future of our roads than self-driving cars. The incredible influence that this technology could have on delivery, productivity and general efficiency in countless industries makes this all a huge potential for profit.
This is an immensely controversial topic. Many fear for what self-driving vehicles mean for safety and job prospects alike. While it’s impossible to truly predict these things until we see them happen in real time, industry experts are optimistic about what it means for drivers and their employers. If this transition goes as predicted, companies can increase profits and drivers will have improved qualities of life, all with the benefit of added safety. Autonomous vehicle testing is already in progress and growth and development of this new and innovative technology is expected to blossom in upcoming years.
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Excitement is building in the commercial trucking industry as people wait for the leader in platooning, Peloton, to announce the release date for its two-truck platooning system, PlatoonPro. In hopes of temporarily satisfying truck enthusiasts, the company released a list of the safety measures they have put in place to make sure their platooning technology will increase safety for truckers and other cars on the road. Here are some of the ways Peloton is ensuring their tech will make driving safer once it is released.
What is Platooning?
Platooning is a new way we are seeing artificial intelligence working in the trucking industry. This technology is a legal, digital way for a fleet of trucks to communicate with one another using a wireless internet connection. When the front truck brakes, the truck behind can automatically brake or slow down to avoid a collision. Reaction time is improved, allowing trucks to follow more closely behind each other compared to manual driving or cruise control.
Platooning is spreading rapidly thanks to the technology being adapted by numerous truck manufacturers. Companies now working to equip their trucks with platooning technology include Tesla, Volvo, Daimler Truck North America, and many more.
Expanding Upon Proven Technology
In their article, Peloton states that its goal is to make platooning safer for truckers than ever before. That means the moment they hit the button to activate the platooning feature of their truck, their risk of collision or accident should decrease dramatically.
From safety systems to air disc brakes, Peloton’s goal is to not disable any preexisting technology when platooning is enabled. Instead, they are building upon these proven safety systems to make platooning even safer. They also plan to hold their trucks to a high standard with strict maintenance and inspection requirements that will ensure all trucks are in working order before hitting the platoon button.
How New Platooning is Increasing Safety
Apart from proven technology already found in commercial vehicles, the new platooning system will also add features not commonly seen behind the wheel of a semi. Features of Peloton’s new system will include:
One of the biggest aspects will be the new vehicle-to-vehicle direct communication. This technology will be possible due to industry-standard digital short-range communications (DSRC.) This will allow two trucks to accelerate, slow down, and brake together. With this technology, truckers will be able to follow closer than ever before without having to worry about reaction delay. This will decrease fuel consumption, allow for more space on the highway, and make driving easier and safer.
- Platoon ProXimity Dissolve
Platoon ProXimity Dissolve will use camera sensor data and radars to gage traffic conditions in front of the leading truck during a platoon. In case traffic becomes too dense, or if a car cuts in front of the lead truck, the following truck automatically slows down to create more space. This allows all drivers to avoid any situations that may require hard and sudden braking during a platoon.
Platoon Dissolve allows the following driver to manually dissolve the platoon. With the follow-truck system, the driver can slowly increase the gap between the two trucks until there is enough space to safely start controlling the brake and accelerator pedals.
- Display Awareness Video and Info Display
To help the following trucker have a better understanding of what is going on ahead, PlatoonPro features an Info Display in the dash. This display will provide a live video feed from a forward-facing camera in the lead truck, so following drivers will be able to see changing road conditions, upcoming traffic, ramps or bridges, and any other objects up ahead.
To help promote efficient communication and teamwork between drivers, the new platooning system is equipped with a hands-free driver-to-driver radio that can be activated with a foot pedal. This will help with synchronizing lane changes, upcoming road changes and when to dissolve a platoon.
Because platooning systems could potentially be hacked or tampered with from outside sources, it is important that these systems have top-notch cybersecurity to keep truckers and surrounding drivers safe. This system has been highly tested to prevent hacking and will immediately dissolve if a system becomes jammed.
Future of Platooning
Platooning is still in its early phases and requires more research before all 50 states will allow it. Only half of the U.S. currently authorizes the technology, but companies like Peloton are embracing industry standard testing. Substantial in-lab and track testing must be done first before moving on to on-road testing in order to maximize safety standards. As more and more companies continue to do this, then more states will continue to change their laws.
This century’s boom in technology has revolutionized seemingly all aspects of everyday life. It has gone well beyond our computers and cell phones. Now, our vacuum cleaners, thermostats, and even our dog’s collars can be connected to the internet to make our lives easier and more automated. However, nothing seems to be gaining more excitement than the automation of vehicles. Technological advancements are reducing accidents and making driving safer, more comfortable and convenient.
But if you are a truck driver, the automation of vehicles may seem like a cause for concern. You may be worried what the rise of self-driving trucks could mean for your industry, or more specifically, your job. Recently, Goldman Sachs released the prediction, “as autonomous vehicle technology peaks, as many as 25,000 trucker jobs could be eliminated per month or about 300,000 annually.”
This sounds like a concerning prediction at first, but upon a closer look, this statement is quite vague. We are decades away from any peak in autonomous vehicle technology. In fact, vehicle automation has just begun. For now, the primary focus of automation in the trucking industry comes in the form of “platooning,” which should put all drivers at ease once they learn about it.
Platooning is legal, digital tailgating among trucks that will decrease accidents and reduce fuel consumption among trucks. It works by linking trucks to one another using short-range wireless connections. This allows the trucks to drive closely to one another to utilize an aerodynamic benefit. The wireless connection comes into play by allowing the trailing trucks to automatically brake when the front truck slows down, as to avoid rear-end collisions.
This technology will be invaluable to fleets. Platooning has the potential to reduce fuel consumption by 5-20 percent. Additionally, the automation comes with safety technology that will help truckers stay safe on the road, including lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and air brakes. As a bonus, platooning technology would not even require fleets to purchase new trucks or costly equipment. As a recent panel discussion, Michael Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE), discussed how everything you would need for platooning is already in most trucks.
“Safety equipment like automatic braking and lane keeping are options fleets can buy on their trucks, and they are being bought on a pretty high scale with no regulations requiring them. A lot of the technology that is required to platoon two trucks is already on the truck. Now we just have to figure out how to handle the vehicle-to-vehicle communication.”
Trials of platooning are happening now across the world with hopes of commercial operations beginning as soon as 2019 in the U.S. However, more realistically, platooning will not be the norm until 2030.
Will Vehicle Automation Lead to Job Cuts?
While platooning will be a large advancement in trucking technology, it is nowhere near the self-driving cars we imagine when we think of vehicle automation. In fact, platooning will still require a high level of driver readiness. An alert and active driver will still be needed to operate each truck as they typically would, and the platooning safety features will only work to assist a driver.
This is great news for truck drivers across the world. Not only will trucking automation not cost them their careers, but it will make their jobs easier, safer, and better for the environment.
The Future of Trucking Technology
If you are still worried about vehicle automation claiming your job down the road, a recent study by the American Center of Mobility offers some comforting words on the subject.
“Automated vehicle technology could incorrectly be viewed as a change that will eliminate driving jobs; however, the more nuanced assessment is that over the next decade, the innovation will foster broader societal changes resulting in shifts in the workplace and workforce demands.”
This means there is nothing to fear when it comes to the vehicle automation. While it may change the way you do your job and change the landscape of the trucking industry as a whole, it will not soon result in truck drivers becoming obsolete. In fact, it is just the opposite. This new technology will mean that more jobs are created, and there will be more opportunities to grow your career and education in trucking.
As the trucker deficit continues, drivers are still in high demand across the country. And with new technology rolling out, now is an exciting time to get into the trucking industry. Don’t let the new automation advances scare you; instead, let them inspire you to grow in your career.
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Autonomous Vehicles: What Does it Really Mean?
Autonomous vehicles are on the cutting edge of technology. Vehicles equipped with autonomous capabilities and technology are even available today for regular citizens with the purchasing power. But what about commercial vehicles? It’s no surprise that autonomous technology would be a great asset in the world of commercial transportation. Autonomous vehicles have the power to drastically reduce accidents by eliminating human error, and cut down on driver fatigue to keep drivers on the road for more hours. But how will they influence the commercial transportation and commercial truck financing industry?
The Latest Strides
In March of 2018, Google and Waymo announced that self-driving semi trucks would debut in Atlanta, transporting cargo bound for Google’s data centers. Waymo’s had this on the map for some time: they’ve actually been road testing autonomous vehicles in Arizona and California for a year. These vehicles are a distinctive bright blue and operate using the same technology that Google’s autonomous minivan, the “Pacifica,” uses. Driver distraction is one of the greatest threats to road safety, and autonomous vehicles offer protection against this.
The world’s first shipment carried out by a self-driving truck occurred in October of 2016, moving a large transport of Budweiser (over 50,000 cans).
When people think of autonomous vehicles, they picture a driver reading a book or watching a movie in the cab of car while the vehicle assumes complete, trusted responsibility. But the truth is that’s not always how it works. There are actually varying degrees of autonomy that demand different levels of “driver readiness.” So what is driver readiness? It is the state of a driver being ready to respond and act while operating an autonomous vehicle. Today, all autonomous vehicles require a base level of driver readiness.
There are six levels of driver readiness. For example, level zero is full control over the vehicle, the way you normally drive a regular car. Between levels 3-5, the system becomes more equipped to change lanes and turns. Level 5 is defined as a vehicle with autonomy to perform all driver functions that a human driver can. However, these vehicles still require someone to pilot the car to ensure safety, and must remain ready to intervene. This is good news for truck drivers worried about losing their jobs to autonomous vehicles, because the technology is still a bit removed from allowing unmanned vehicles onto the road. Highway driving is significantly easier for the AI technology to adapt to, but urban and narrow roadways prove more complicated. The ideal scenario would require a human driver to take over during more complex traffic scenarios, but allow the AI to take over once on the highway.
The University of Michigan’s Center of Sustainability predicts that these vehicles have the ability to reduce crashes by 90%. Not only is this valuable in preventing injury or deaths on the road, it also saves time by preventing delays that would result from accidents. This would also prevent potential costly damages against cargo as well. It’s easy to see the benefits that AI could have for the commercial transportation industry. Not to mention that autonomous technology would allow drivers to make fewer stops, saving time on their trips.
How does this technology work? Some AI systems reportedly function through a network of cameras that record a images that it then pieces together to form an idea of what’s going on in the “world” around. These images are processed constantly to form an ever changing “map” of the moving world.
Impact on Commercial Transportation
ABI Research conducted a survey to determine how likely large transportation companies are to utilize new technology with in their commercial vehicles. They found that 18% of respondents indicated that they are already in the process of addressing their options for autonomous vehicles.
The advent of advanced autopilot systems for commercial vehicles and semi trucks may also affect the industry by encouraging more people to become truck drivers. According to Fortune, there is a shortage of truck drivers on the road today. For every 12 loads in need of transportation, there was one 1 available truck driver, according to industry analysis. The average pay for drivers has even increased in the last several years. Yet, many people don’t feel comfortable taking on a job that requires long hours and lengthy sleepless shifts. These “copilot” systems would ease the strain placed on truck drivers, preventing accidents (particularly at night) and allow drivers to relax more during their trip (or even sleep in some cases). The technology also makes truck driving a safer job, for those who are interested in truck driving but were concerned about the risk of accident.
The systems simultaneously allow one driver to maximize their time by almost triple, a valuable asset in a market with limited drivers right now. Today, the FMCSA limits drivers to working 60 hours per week and taking specific breaks, but these regulations could yield more profit in that time with the advent of AI.
Another possibility is known as “platooning,” in which a trio of semi trucks drive in unison—one or two of them manned by drivers and a third truck self-driving. Platooning is a strategy that keeps trucks driving at a constant speed, less likely to be disrupted by traffic flow. This means lower fuel consumption, lower carbon dioxide emissions, greater traffic safety and it allows the truck technology to communicate.
Impact on Semi Truck Financing
At this stage, it’s unclear how this technology will impact the semi truck and commercial vehicle financing industry. The availability of autonomous vehicle technology to owner-operators is most likely a ways off. These semi trucks today are financed by large companies and carriers (like Otto, owned by Uber) who have invested in research and testing.
Dealership lending and direct lending to owner-operators is a vital component of the commercial transportation industry. Drivers need loans to afford their trucks—whether it’s one truck for a single owner-operator or an additional truck to add to their fleet. Whatever changes arise in the commercial trucking industry, lenders are invested in providing a means for drivers to earn a living.