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Self-Driving Trucks: The Future of Fleet Management?

In May of this year, Freightliner (owned by Daimler AG), introduced the Inspiration – America’s first self-driving tractor-trailer truck – at a press event in Nevada. What we learned:

  • Testing has begun on public highways in the state of Nevada.
  • Be on the lookout for license plate number AU 010.
  • There will always be a licensed driver in the driver’s seat.
  • Radar sensors and cameras watch lane lines and surrounding traffic.
  • When autonomous, the truck will stay in a single lane and avoid cars ahead.
  • The driver must take over in city and urban settings plus when certain conditions, like snow, occur.

While production is estimated to be two to three years away, the announcement garnered huge buzz (and set a world record for its light show), but what are the implications for fleet management and fleet management software?

Benefits of Self-Driving Trucks

Freightliner compares the autonomous functionality of the Inspiration to the autopilot system in commercial airlines. So while autonomous trucks may not alleviate the driver shortage, it does have potential to aid in driver retention. Drivers, previously devoted to focusing on the road ahead, are now freed up for higher level management tasks such as coordinating future trips, monitoring truck diagnostics and troubleshooting figurative and literal roadblocks.

Additionally, Freightliner contends drivers will be healthier and better rested. According to a recent study, 13% of large truck crashes were due to fatigue, and one in four drivers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel within the last month. While no one suggests a driver should sleep while the truck is in autonomous mode, surely their attention on the road is less important than if they were the sole conductor of the vehicle.

Autonomous trucks will also be able to take advantage of several fuel saving activities such as operating in platoons. To maximize aerodynamic forces, a platoon of autonomous trucks can follow single-file behind a lead truck creating pockets of less drag.

Critics Point out Weaknesses

Critics, mainly representatives of labor unions, cite the human intuition required to correctly predict future roadway obstacles in defense of the driver. Additionally, legal questions arise from the potential need to determine who will be responsible in the event of an accident – the driver or the truck itself. Finally, state laws affecting this sort of technology vary widely which poses an issue for an industry focused on interstate commerce. For instance, New York requires drivers to have at least one hand on the wheel at all times.

One thing is clear when it comes to driver-less trucks: the future is inevitable. While many of the concerns are certainly valid, it appears the benefits greatly outweigh the risks once the technology has been thoroughly vetted.

Contact us today to learn how you can integrate cutting-edge SkyBitz technology into your fleet.

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