Technology is disrupting the trucking industry in a way we have never seen before. As automakers continue to innovate and define the future of the connected car and autonomous vehicles, the commercial transportation industry is taking note, and fleet managers are adjusting the way they oversee their vehicles and drivers.
Imagine one of your rigs is cruising down the highway at a crisp clip. Traffic is not an issue because more than half of the vehicles on the road – including semi-trucks – are fully, or at least partially, autonomous. The vehicle automatically knows the best route to avoid traffic or adverse weather conditions. Therefore, instead of focusing on the road, your drivers are spending their drive time catching up on their log of activities or reading a good book without cutting into trip productivity.
Other technologies, such as video conferencing, mean long-haul drivers who spend weeks or months away from their families can be closer than ever, even when they are 3,000 miles away.
This is a reality five to 10 years away (depending on who you ask), and it is possible thanks to the innovations in connected car technology. There is a major metamorphosis happening in the transportation industry, and connectivity in and out of the vehicle is at the heart of the transformation.
As the computing power necessary for artificial intelligence becomes reality, while at the same time smart sensors and cameras become more economical, fleet managers are empowered with an increasing amount of data to help them cut costs and maintain efficiency.
Mobility and the Road Ahead
Automakers offer varying time frames for when this technology will be more mainstream, but the consensus seems to be that more than half of all new vehicles sold will be fully autonomous by 2025. Major transportation companies such as Uber are already testing self-driving automobiles in cities across America.
Freight delivery is an area in which autonomous vehicles and advanced technologies will have the biggest impact. However, autonomous commercial trucking faces a common transportation issue known as the “last mile” problem, in which getting freight from a major transportation hub to its final destination remains a challenge.
There is a bright side: The last mile is getting shorter and shorter. A delivery van that can drive itself from a warehouse to the delivery location has improved the situation, but the package still needs to be transported from the van to a customer’s doorstep. Drone technology is a promising solution, but is still far from perfect. The question is: Who will get there first?
The Wild, Wild West of IoT
There is a war being fought on the Internet of Things front.
Many auto manufacturers claim they already have (subject only to final development and testing) the essential technology for the connected car and fully autonomous driving. While companies such as Google and Apple battle for market share, the automobile industry will be forced to choose among competing systems. As in other technology wars, one platform will become the standard. A wrong guess has the potential for irrelevance and obsolescence. The equivalent of cars built in the 1970s with 8-Track players.
Which platform will win? And how can telematics firms capitalize on that market gap? While those questions remain unanswered, one thing is certain: Even after vehicles become autonomous, the need to monitor and track them will be crucial.
Fleet managers have to know where a vehicle is, what it is doing and what its next task is at all times. From efficiently routing vehicles to monitoring fuel usage, fleet tracking is not going to decrease in importance. Arguably, it will be more vital when there is no human operator along for the ride. Tracking vehicle behavior and maintenance in real time enables fleet managers to catch issues before they become costly or dangerous to the driving public. Fleets powered with autonomous vehicles will require back-office staff and managers who can trace and monitor every move vehicles make while out on the road.
Regarding how quickly this connected/autonomous technology becomes mainstream, that may depend on public perception. The more quickly people get used to seeing vehicles without a driver on the road, the more commonplace and unremarkable it will be.
Public opinion can be assisted by strong government support, and for now it looks like nations such as China and Singapore – where the authorities are inclined to experiment with the technology on a widespread basis – will lead in this development.
Restrata recently released a white paper discussing the future of driverless trucks - you can read it here: