Autonomous Vehicles: Driving Into the Future
At Trimble Transportation, we think about autonomous vehicles less as self-functioning machines and more as an evolution that can revolutionize your fleet’s efficiency, resource allocation and potential.
Autonomy will undoubtedly impact your business and operations in the future, so at our 2022 Insight Conference + Expo, we brought together three experts in the field for a lively, interactive discussion with great questions from the audience.
Here’s a glimpse at the participants and some of the discussion points that arose during the session:
- Stephan Olsen, general sales manager at Kenworth Truck Company, where he’s been for 24 years. Most recently, Olson was responsible for the PACCAR Innovation Center.
- Glynn Spangenberg is the chief commercial officer at Locomation, a level two autonomous truck provider. With more than 40 years of experience in the industry, he’s held many different positions in telematics.
- Ryan Rogers, the founder and CEO of TextLocate, who has a long history in senior transportation positions with U.S. Express, Covenant and Amazon.
Even if level four autonomous truck solutions aren’t currently on the highway, when you look at the full gamut of the technology, it’s already assisting drivers, according to Rogers.
“We’re seeing benefits in terms of efficiency of the vehicle, how it’s operated and reduced driver fatigue,” he said. Rogers also explained that autonomy could also fill gaps in driver shortages and make the profession less demanding on coast-to-coast routes and give drivers back more time to spend with family.
Olsen explained that the technology of level one and level two advanced driver assistance systems available and in production today -- whether it's adaptive cruise control or lane keeping assist -- offers significant benefits to drivers in terms of reducing fatigue and improving the safety of the vehicle.
Spangenberg shared his thought that one of the biggest problems with autonomous trucks is the belief that full autonomy is right around the corner.
“You're not going to get the drivers out of the truck because the machines can't learn the human element and we're not that close to it,” Spangenberg said. “However, we can get closer with recent technology advancements and use the best of it to do things that can improve drivers' lives and create a better machine.”
According to Olsen, one of the early lessons PACCAR learned was the expense and level of validation required in developing an autonomous prototype. In addition, the entire safety case needs to be fully vetted to understand what could go wrong and how to mitigate those risks in the future --that type of development requires a very, tight knit partnership between the truck OEM and the autonomous developer, resulting in a robust, fully integrated system.
“Autonomy is a marathon. It is not a sprint,” Olsen said. “We're not going to wake up one day and have autonomous trucks running all over the United States. It's going to deploy in a very measured case with defined lanes and defined scenarios with certain fleets, where the autonomous model can integrate with the operation.”
Rogers shared he’s seeing that driver acceptance of autonomous technology is actually better than anticipated because most drivers want to have a safe experience. “I think they're open to it,” he said.
While there may be some driver nervousness about being completely displaced, the reality is that it will take many years to get there, and may never even happen, Rogers stated.
Spangenberg shared that Locomation’s primary approach to the marketplace is a leader/follower model that incorporates platooning. “We believe that we're going to be able to commercially deploy that model safely, and at scale, before the other machines learn how to actually be a completely solo autonomous truck.”
According to Spangenberg, the simplest approach to getting autonomous trucks on the road is for a human driver to be responsible for an autonomous truck that's following behind it. Considered a level two arena, the configuration consists of one driver in each truck, with the human driver of the lead truck acting as the superior cognitive filter ahead of the follower truck’s autonomy system.
Olsen stated that on the autonomy front, PACCAR is engaged in the level four arena, meaning the vehicle does not require any human interaction in the operation because it is programmed to stop itself in the event of system failure. He shared that testing the company’s autonomous prototype on a closed course demonstrated the huge amount of effort, validation, simulation, engineering and testing needed to make sure autonomous trucks are safe, efficient and reliable. Those learnings also led the company to take the strategic approach of partnering with an autonomy developer.
Stay Tuned In
With so many rapid developments in the autonomous trucking space, it’s important to stay close the information. The panelists recommended researching solutions, talking to drivers, learning their opinions on it and being open-minded and cautiously optimistic about new technologies.
Contact us today to find out how we can help you implement the right solutions to keep you moving forward.