Tag Archives for " driverless trucks "

The era of the Executive Truck Driver is upon us

Why driverless fleets could need highly paid specialist truck drivers

Truck fleet owners are getting serious about driverless trucks. The benefits are obvious. Fuel costs and driver salaries combined make up almost two-thirds of a fleet’s cost base. Autonomous trucks will remove the need for almost all drivers, and allow ‘platoons’ of trucks to drive within just a few metres of each other. Fewer drivers will slash salary spending, and ‘platooning’ cuts fuel costs by up to 10%.

The truck industry is one of the most dangerous in Australia, with 15 times the number of deaths among drivers as there are among employees in other industries. Automated truck technology promises to improve safety levels.

Driverless platoons are forecast to hit Australia’s roads by 2025. Where will this technology leave today’s truck drivers? Will truck drivers become redundant overnight?

Truck driver jobs will be lost, but the impact may be less than expected

At the end of May, the International Transport Forum said that autonomous vehicles would reduce freight costs, slash exhaust emissions, and improve road safety. The cost of these benefits, it said, would be seen mostly on driver jobs. It expects between 50% and 70% of truck driver jobs to be made redundant. Such job losses in Australia would need to be managed, but may not impact truck drivers as much as they might expect.

The freight market in Australia is expected to grow by 26% over the next ten years. If this transpires and there will be no change in the way that truck fleets are operated, this would create a need for another 25% more driver jobs across the country. By dovetailing the introduction of driverless technology with the increase in freight, job losses wouldn’t hit so hard. Also, there will be retirements which will also reduce the technological impact. Some drivers will decide to move to other industries.

In summary, while the International Transport Forum may be right about the scale of truck driver jobs lost, the impact on drivers currently in the industry is likely to be a lot less than they might think.

In Australia, truck drivers will have new opportunities

Driving in Australia is very different to driving in Europe or America. The first place we’re likely to see driverless trucks in convoy is on major roads and highways. As the technology becomes proven, truck fleets will probably seek to extend service to the Australian Outback.

It will present a whole new set of challenges to the technology employed: animals running into the paths of trucks; heat; and roads that are more like farm tracks, taking their toll on engines and tyres.

Truck convoys could be hundreds of metres long. Loads might include livestock, fuel, or hazardous materials. Dust is a problem for other vehicles that want to overtake.

As GPS technology, truck-to-truck cameras and links, road and traffic and truck sensors increase in ability and fleet use, driverless convoys are likely to become the norm.  But a driverless convoy may be a step too far. Enter the Executive Truck Driver.

What might the Executive Truck Driver of the future be?

It’s likely that the lead driver in a driverless convoy will have more responsibility. They’ll have to control the convoy, using in-cab technology to monitor how each truck is performing.

The Executive Truck Driver of the future is likely to be more technologically experienced than the truck driver of today, and enrol as a multitalented supervisor. They will need to be ready to take control of the truck and pursuing platoon when it’s needed. They will need to obtain information about roads and weather and liaise with customers. They will also control maintenance on the road, and ensure that engines and tyres are in top condition for the journey ahead.

The Executive Driver will need to input reams of data into onboard computers, allowing sensors to adapt to immediate and upcoming conditions and environments. In short, the job of a driver is changing.

How fast will platooning take off in Australia?

The software that will allow trucks to drive together in a close convoy is being tested as I write, and it’s being improved almost daily. Truck manufacturers are preparing for rollout within a couple of years. The truck industry is likely to force through change. Lower fuel and employee costs, as well as better on-road safety, will encourage firms to change sooner rather than later. Uptake of platooning is likely to snowball.

Eventually, it’s probable that most if not all trucks in Australia will be driverless. But as we transition to this state, the best drivers will be required to lead the charge and platooning convoys. And they are likely to be very well paid to do so.

To find out about our comprehensive services for truck owners and fleets, contact Darra Tyres. Never be stranded on roads in and around Brisbane again – even when most of your trucks are driverless.

Keeping your business and fleet safely on the road,

Kevin Wood

Are driverless trucks coming to Brisbane?

Are you ready for a trucking industry revolution?

The biggest shake-up in Brisbane’s trucking industry for decades appears to be on its way. Driverless trucks are a topic on which everyone has an opinion.

Some say they’re dangerous, and that they could be prone to accidental damage caused by fallen eucalyptus trees and wayward kangaroos. Others say they simply won’t work in Queensland’s outback, where tech support will be difficult and costly to find.

Supporters say they will save billions of dollars in costs, and that they will eliminate the shortcomings of tired drivers making fatal mistakes.

Despite America being ahead in the race to pass laws and test driverless trucks on the roads, they could become the norm here in Queensland first. In fact, they’re already proving to be a hit in some parts of Australia.

America is racing to be the first country to have driverless trucks…

In America, they are gearing up for driverless trucks on the highways. Congress looks set to pass laws that will push the Department of Transportation to draft regulations for self-driving cars next year. Lawmakers acknowledge that self-driving technology is going to disrupt the way people travel.

However, getting the laws that exempt autonomous vehicles (as they are also known) from some safety requirements written and passed through the system could take years, especially while overhauling industry safety standards. Even so, 20 U.S. states have passed their self-driving car regulations already.

In preparation for nationwide laws to come into force, Daimler has already been licensed to test self-driving trucks on U.S. highways.

Daimler has said that driverless trucks are a decade away from becoming a reality, despite predicted safety and efficiency benefits. But this isn’t because the technology needs to be developed. It’s already there. The hold up in America is because of the legal issues highlighted above.

Australia doesn’t have any laws governing driverless trucks as yet. So, it would appear that we’re behind the game. However, the reality is that driverless trucks in Queensland and other Australian states could be closer than we think.

…Yet self-driving trucks are already working in Australia…

The debate about self-driving trucks is probably making Rio Tinto executives chuckle. They’ve been using them in Australia for almost a decade. And not just any old trucks. Huge great 400-ton beasts, in the harsh conditions of quarries and mines in Western Australia.

Rio has dozens of these driverless trucks working 24 hours each day, hauling iron ore across four job sites. They drive themselves using a combination of GPS, radar, and laser sensors. A team supervises the job they are doing from more than 700 miles away. It’s proving a safer and cheaper way of operating, though if something does go wrong, human help (such as emergency servicing, mechanics, and tyre changes) is a long way away.

…And self-driving trucks could transform Australia’s deadliest industry…

Truck drivers on Australia’s roads are 15 times more likely to die than workers in other industries. Even the Australian Trucking Association has said that self-driving trucks could make the industry safer. And with road freight set to nearly double between 2010 and 2030, there aren’t enough drivers to meet demand.

Geoff Crouch, the chairman of the Australian Trucking Association, believes that self-driving trucks are the future of the industry, but that it won’t be an overnight transition. He believes that the transition will begin with autonomous braking technology as standard in all vehicles before progressing from there.

This said, ‘platooning’ – a convey of autonomous trucks travelling within feet of each other – is being tested in Western Australia this year. The lead truck ‘talks’ to those following, warning of obstacles and road conditions and synchronising speed and braking. By driving so close together, it is estimated that fuel costs can be slashed by as much as 20%.

Of course, truck drivers don’t only drive. They perform other essential tasks, such as loading and unloading, vehicle checks, and customer liaison.

Perhaps this gives a clue as to how driverless truck convoys could work in the future:

  • First stop is for the truck’s technology to remove increasing responsibilities from the driver: the need to brake, plan routes, steer, etc.
  • Once this technology is embedded, then platooning could happen with the lead vehicle manned, and other vehicles driverless.
  • The lead driver will control the fleet, monitoring performance and problems. He or she will oversee loading and unloading, and all the other tasks required of drivers today.
  • Eventually, as other functions become automated, platoons of wholly driverless trucks will become commonplace on the roads of Queensland and Australia. These convoys will be controlled by human intervention hundreds of miles away.

The only question remaining is how mechanical issues are dealt with. That may not change much from today, with services like Darra Tyres’ 24/7 truck call out service dealing with a truck’s tyre problems local to Brisbane. The difference here, of course, is that instead of speaking to the driver, the technician will be speaking to a controller who may not even be on the same continent. Interesting times ahead, we think.

To find out about our comprehensive services for truck owners and fleets, in demand today and prepared for tomorrow, contact Darra Tyres. Never be stranded on roads in and around Brisbane again.

Keeping your business and fleet safely on the road,

Kevin Wood