Fuel for Thought

The future's so bright

The Future's So Bright, I Gotta.... Close The Curtains.

By Greg Huggins
Posted Jan 4th 2017 10:13PM

Sleeping in a truck while it goes down the road can be difficult for some team drivers. The stops and starts, inclines and declines, potholes and noisy traffic or just daylight seeping into the bunk area can take some getting used to. Teaming with a trusted driver helps, but what about teaming with a computer?

As the reality of autonomous trucks creeps into our lives, there is also the reality of a solo driver “teaming” with his or her autonomous truck. As the truck drives itself down the open road, the human driver is supposed to rest and be ready to take the wheel when the time comes.

Would you feel comfortable sleeping in a “driverless” truck?

There may come a day when this is commonplace, but how long before you can accept it? Or rely on it to travel safely down the road while you sleep?

What about HOS (Hours of Service) ?

Will the human driver, who must be ready to take over, be able to get their much needed rest? If the human driver must remain ready to take the wheel, will this be considered On Duty Not Driving time?

As the future of trucking still has a long way to go before we see fully autonomous trucks, drivers will still be needed. Even the near future projections expect autonomous trucks to only be able to navigate safely outside of urban areas. This means the truck can get you to the city limits, but the human driver must navigate through the city or within the city to reach the destination.

For those drivers who routinely travel in less populated regions, this could be a huge advantage. Long stretches of wide open roads that an autonomous truck can safely navigate. This would allow the human driver to get rested.

For those drivers who mainly drive in metropolitan areas, the advantage of self driving trucks seems to diminish. In the Northeast, you mainly go from one metropolitan area to another. This leaves virtually no time, or at best, just very small amounts of time for the truck to drive itself. In this environment it would leave very little time, if any, for the human driver to rest while the truck took over.

As a solo driver I would find it difficult to rest while my truck drove down the road. For team drivers they could probably make the adjustment more easily than I could, but there is the trust factor for all to consider.

I am not necessarily against autonomous trucks, I am still watching as this this technology develops. Many drivers believe this new age of “driverless” trucks will replace them. I do not see it happening that soon. The first wave of autonomous trucks will still need drivers. The role of the driver may change, but drivers will still need to be present as the technology develops. There may be less human driver interaction, but there will still be a need for truck drivers for years to come.

Just looking at it from the court of public opinion, there is a large portion of the public who do not like trucks on the road at all, it will take a long time to convince them that the trucks they already dislike will be traveling down the road along side them without a driver at all. Make no mistake, public opinion important. It has the power to influence our government officials and their decisions about the laws governing such vehicles. No one seems to mind autonomous heavy equipment in the mining or agricultural areas, but they have different opinions when they have to interact with them.

There is also the issue of security. What could happen if your autonomous truck gets hijacked electronically? Hackers, viruses, malicious software, battery failure, or just sensor failure could present a greater danger if the human driver is sleeping when an electrical or electronic fault happens. Hopefully the developers are putting in redundant fail safes, multiple layers of protection for these type of failures.

Autonomous trucks are definitely in our future. Like it, love it, or hate it, it will be a part of our future. Embrace it or reject it, you will have to deal with it as a driver or just a fellow motorist. Just like ELDs, better to learn about it now that just be subjected to it later.

See you down the road (unless you’re sleeping while the truck drives),

Greg

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.

- Bill Gates

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