Chat with us, powered by LiveChat

Autonomous Trucks: How Close Are They to Becoming a Road Reality?

Last Updated on  April 29, 2024  By  eformblogadmin
pinterest-logo whatsapp-logo
autonomous trucks

Self-driving trucks — it’s a concept that seems straight out of science fiction. But with research and investments in the technology coming from Silicon Valley and auto makers alike, these vehicles are closer to reality than ever. Tesla, in fact, has already rolled out about 100 of its autonomous Semi trucks.

With more than 3 million registered semi-trucks on American roads, it will be a while before driverless models dominate the highways. But that doesn’t mean we can’t better understand the future today. So let’s explore the different aspects of these trucks: the latest developments, safety and efficiency statistics, the potential impact on jobs, and predictions for the future.

The Latest Developments in trucking technology

The idea for driverless trucks has been around since at least early 1990s when models were developed for combat. In these early attempts, the lead truck had a human driver followed by a convoy operated by satellite navigation, inertial guiding systems, and ground-speed sensors.

Almost 18 years later, Komatsu implemented autonomous technology to deploy a fleet of FrontRunner AHS trucks at a mining site in Chile. Then, in May 2015, Daimler launched the Freightliner Inspiration, the world's first licensed autonomous commercial truck to operate on public highways.

In 2023, some major players — such as TuSimple, Waymo, Locomotion, and Embark — stopped developing autonomous trucks. But a group of new start-ups have entered the field, including Aurora Innovation and Kodiak Robotics.

What, exactly, are they working on? 

Aurora, founded in 2017, has innovated a feature it calls “fallback,” which enables trucks to navigate to the side of the road and come to a halt when a critical component failure occurs. And earlier this year, the company announced it plans to roll out about a dozen autonomous trucks by the end of 2024, with a goal of deploying thousands by 2027. 

Kodiak, founded in 2018, completed a coast-to-coast commercial run in 2022 between Texas, California and Florida in partnership with 10 Roads Express. The company has also introduced autonomous trucks with streamlined sensor arrays, crucial new safety features for driverless trucks. Kodiak’s autonomous semis have 12 cameras, four lidar sensors, and six radar sensors; an enhanced computing power; and redundant systems for all critical mechanical components.

By showing their tech and vehicles work, Aurora, Kodiak, and other companies working toward driverless trucks have secured partnerships with the likes of Continental, 10 Roads, U.S. Xpress, and others to get their rigs on the road. 

Safety and Efficiency

Even if these vehicles are the future of the industry, how safe are trucks with no human operator? It’s a good question — and an important one.

The companies building these vehicles argue that automation will enhance safety and efficiency on our highways. Specifically, driverless trucks are designed to mitigate the risks associated with human error, fatigue, and distractions. Preliminary data from ongoing pilot programs is promising, indicating a notable reduction in accidents and underscoring the potential for safer roads. 

But while the safety impact of autonomous trucks is still being debated, there are some clear benefits. Innovative mapping systems allow driverless trucks to navigate routes with precision and even find new, quicker ways to reach a destination. (That coast-to-coast Kodiak run mentioned above? It included finding a new, more efficient route using the company’s “lightweight mapping solution.”) 

This kind of technological optimization saves time and money, reduces fuel consumption, and contributes to a more sustainable future for the trucking industry.

Impact on Jobs

That’s all well and good, but what does a transition to autonomous trucks mean for jobs? 

Concerns about how this technology will affect employment are valid, important, and a critical part of this conversation. But it’s worth noting that the U.S. has an acute shortage of qualified drivers. A 2023 survey found the country needs 80,000 truckers — a number that could double by 2030. With companies like Aurora hoping to put “thousands” of autonomous trucks on the road by 2027, it’s unlikely that there will be a heavy impact on truckers’ job prospects. At least, not in the short term.

The long-term picture is cloudier. The major players have argued that autonomous vehicles will be a win-win for them and truckers. These new trucks are more suited to covering longer routes, as well as routes that operators find challenging to cover. That could mean human drivers can make shorter, safer runs and maintain a work-life balance. How will this work in practice? It’s still too early to say.

What Comes Next?

The breakthroughs companies like Aurora and Kodiak are making with their autonomous truck tech puts us closer than ever to a driverless future. Some of these vehicles are already on highways, and there are ambitious goals to get more in service sooner rather than later.

But self-driving vehicles have proven to be a difficult challenge to master, and saying with any certainty where things will go is impossible. Still, it’s clear that most roads lead to an autonomous future. The drive toward this goal is shaping the future of trucking, with promises of enhanced safety, efficiency, and sustainability.

A high-tech, automated future holds immense potential for reshaping the way goods are transported globally. And ensuring a responsible transition requires collaboration between industry leaders, regulators, and — especially — drivers. 

After all, who knows the roads — and trucks — better? And who better to help navigate their industry into trucking’s next age?