Thursday, July 9, 2015

Robo-Truck ?

The semi of the future makes a splash at Hoover Dam.

The Truck of the Future is here – and while it can drive itself in most highway situations, there is still a driver behind the wheel. 

With much fanfare, Freightliner introduced the Inspiration at a May launch in Las Vegas, driving the Class 8 truck, a “semi” or 18-wheeler, around Hoover Dam without human intervention. In the Inspiration, Freightliner’s ACC Plus controls steering, distance and speed, from driving to stopping. Radar scans for vehicles nearby and camera systems recognize lane markings in highway driving.

Inspiration is a Level 3 of autonomous vehicle; Class 4 would mean totally self-operating. When the system encounters a situation it can’t handle, it notifies the driver and switches back to manual mode. The truck can’t navigate regular roads, read or respond to road signs or traffic lights, change lanes, enter or exit the highway, or dock by itself.

Autonomous trucking is more likely to help than hinder trucking jobs, according to Freightliner’s parent company. For example, regulations on shift length and time could change if research the auto mode reduces driver fatigue. Over monotonous highway miles, Inspiration’s autonomous features increase safety, reduce driver stress and fatigue, and optimizes time available to manage business and dispatch tasks on the road, allowing the driver to function as an on-road logistics manager.

Inspiration’s automated system allows the driver to take feet, hands, and even eyes off the controls, but not his or her mind off the road. The same rules–such as no texting nor napping–still apply in Inspiration’s driver’s seat. Touching brakes or wheel instantly overrides the autopilot. Inspiration also incorporates a myriad of energy-saving features, including an array of solar panels covering the trailer’s roof, that allow it to more than double the average Class 8 fuel consumption, attaining 12.2 mpg. Cummins, Volvo and Navistar are also working on advanced truck designs.

According to Morgan Stanley, complete autonomous capability will be here by 2022, followed by massive market penetration by 2026 and the cars we know and love today then entirely extinct in another 20 years thereafter. Other research reports estimate significant penetration by 2035 or so.

So when you pass an 18-wheeler, pump your arm, and maybe the driver will blow the horn for you. You can tell your grandkids about it someday.
Kirk Shearer
800-989-0054 x103

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