Blowing Smoke on Autonomous Trucks

Driverless ride thanks to NREC technology in an Oshkosh Defense TerraMax™ July 2013

Blowing Smoke on Autonomous Trucks

November 7, 2017 |  by

You won’t see fully autonomous commercial trucks on the road any time soon. It’s not for lack of advanced vehicle technologies – they’ve been around for years. Look at highway and test track platooning, unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) technologies used by the US Marine Corps, autonomous mining and garbage trucks tested along pre-programmed routes.

Driverless ride thanks to NREC technology in an Oshkosh Defense TerraMax™ July 2013

Driverless ride thanks to NREC technology in an Oshkosh Defense TerraMax™ July 2013

The roadblocks are societal – regulatory, concerns about reliability, liability, safety, impact on infrastructure, and diminished driver employment.

So, how do truck manufacturers balance investor demand for new models with cutting edge features and reality where the rubber hits the road? Here’s what they say to the public.

Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA): “We are not ready to announce a market availability of platooning yet, although you’ll see us come out soon with active lane keeping as yet another advanced driver assistance system.” DTNA does not want to use terms like “autonomous” or “driverless trucks”. “You’ll see us change the language to advanced driver assistance systems, or active safety, you won’t see us talk about autonomous. The idea that trucks are going to be driverless in our near future – we don’t believe in that.”

PACCAR: PACCAR, which manufactures the Kenworth, Peterbilt and DAF lines of trucks, has developed a proof-of-concept self-driving truck using Nvidia’s technology. Paccar announced it’s partnering with Nvidia on autonomous technology. “Kenworth sees a place for the driver in trucks, full stop.”

Navistar: Many companies are developing the “building blocks for autonomous vehicles when and if it ever comes.” Platooning uses many of these technologies. “Everyone has their oar in the water, we’re all running trials.” “Like a lot of these product offerings, even the most advantageous technology goes through a very deliberate adoption rate in commercial vehicles. You’ve got to worry about residual values, are we delivering value for the customer. We’ll all be in the market at the end of the decade with a viable platooning option and will let the market tell us how valuable those might be.”

Volvo Trucks: Volvo Trucks North America has been keen on platooning, working with University of California researchers and with Peloton Technology. “If you look at autonomous technology and its adoption, it’s driven by customer need, demand and benefit. There’s a growing appetite for autonomous and semi-autonomous technology. We are heavily invested in this and we’ll be prepared when there is marketing demand for it.”

The autonomous truck story has many more chapters to be written. It’s an exciting time to be working with the trucking industry.


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