While vehicle connectivity and driverless cars never seem to be out of the headlines, a quieter revolution has also been unfolding in the world of trucking. From platooning and eTrucks to last mile drone deliveries, a range of exciting new technologies are set to transform how transport services are delivered.
We look at 5 key technologies taking trucking and transport to a whole new level.
Currently the subject of several trials globally, HGV platooning promises to deliver greater road safety, reduced fuel costs and lower emission levels. A government investment of £8.1 million was announced in the UK last year, with the trial set to move to major roads by the end of 2018.
Platooning virtually connects a series of trucks to synchronise braking, steering and acceleration. A lead truck sets the speed and route, followed by the other vehicles mirroring its driving.
While each truck currently has a driver in situ, the future of platooning will see just one driver required for the lead truck and eventually, no human drivers required at all as the solution develops.
The precision of this technology enables faster brake reaction times than a human driver, significantly reducing the risk of collision. Each vehicle in the convoy follows within close proximity of the truck in front, with the lead vehicle reducing aerodynamic drag on all the trucks in the convoy, reducing fuel consumption.
Some manufacturers are suggesting that platooning can be used for up to ten trucks, significantly reducing both delivery times and fuel usage. The benefits are far reaching, with drivers potentially freed up to carry out additional duties simultaneously to generate additional income.
Although the switch to electric will inevitably take more time for trucks than for cars, battery prices are now coming down while the prices for diesel engines are going up (due in part to the increasing cost burden of meeting new regulations).
Indeed, according to McKinsey, the global electric truck market share could reach 15% by 2030 driven by TCO economics – the majority of eTruck segments are expected to reach cost parity with diesel by 2025.
Although early adopters will probably charge their fleet overnight at their own depots or warehouses, once eTrucks become more mainstream, long-haul “refuelling” along popular routes is expected, via a roll-out of supercharging infrastructure at distribution centres and along motorways.
Electric trucks will dramatically change future fleet capabilities, offering greater flexibility in the times and locations of deliveries. As both emissions and noise levels are significantly reduced, they will open up both rural areas and night time deliveries to urban locations.
With some models offering a full recharge time of empty-to-full in just 1-2 hours, electric trucks will also mean fewer stops to refuel and significant running and maintenance cost savings. Tesla’s electric semi-truck already has a range of 500 miles on one charge.
Increasingly, trucks will be empowered to ‘talk’ to one another via the cloud, sharing learnt road information with other vehicles in the fleet. Innovations, for example, enable cameras on vehicles to detect when a road has a new 30mph speed limit. This information can then be automatically shared, via the cloud, with the navigation system used by all the trucks in the fleet.
Elsewhere, cloud-based technology is being developed that allows trucks to talk, not only to one other, but also to passenger cars to collect real-time safety-related data around traffic conditions and potential hazards.
On demand drone deliveries
A potential solution to mitigate last mile delivery costs for truck-based retailers and distribution companies, drones could revolutionise how goods are transported to customers and have already made airborne food deliveries a reality in Reykjavik, Iceland.
All drones are currently limited to light packages of under 7lbs in weight, however, and anti-hacking protection, air traffic management and security procedures are all challenges that require addressing before drone deliveries become commonplace.
But the drive towards this technology is significant, with e-retailers already investigating moving logistics operations off the road and into the air.
The UK is currently developing an automated drone-tracking system, with trials potentially starting at the end of 2018 and an anticipated 2019/20 launch. Watch this space.
According to José Viegas, former secretary-general of the International Transport Forum, driverless trucks could be a regular presence on many roads within the next 10 years.
Fully automated large vehicles are indeed already in operation in the mining industry in Australia. The research hub for such technology remains stateside, however, where research and development has been channelled into a range of programmes over recent years, including into trucks that could potentially drive 24/7 by allowing drivers to take naps during long trips.
A future is even being envisaged where trained drivers will use remote controls to steer trucks from highway exits to final destinations.
HGVs are almost seven times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than cars according to the UK Campaign for Better Transport.
Industry efforts to address this issue are tapping into technology in various ways from cycle ‘safety shields’, which use 360° 3D cameras and radar to warn HGV drivers of the risk of collision with a cyclist to forward collision avoidance and mitigation technology, which uses radar to detect an impending crash and triggers automatic braking to avoid it.