Bear with me as I drone on

This week was spent talking with the ATA’s Technology and Maintenance Council about Future Freight Transportation and, for the 21st Century Truck Partnership, reviewing presentations on what technologies can be used to further improve greenhouse gas emissions and reduce fuel consumption.  We looked at waste heat recovery, lower rolling resistance tires, improvements in combustion, lower viscosity lubricants, weight reduction, platooning and more.  

That does not include the current hype for autonomous vehicles and drones delivering small packages.  I had a chance to provide some input to a longer article on autonomous vehicles that FleetOwner is preparing.  

With all the hype, you might be interested to see where drones and autonomous vehicles fit on the Gartner Hype Cycle [http://diydrones.com/profiles/blogs/where-drones-sit-on-the-gartner-hype-cycle ]  They are shown to be in the nascent phase of rising expectations and have yet to peak.  Like many people, I find the technologies fascinating—even to the point of having voted in a local angel investment fund to support an application of drones that provides good information to farmers to help them control the cost of fertilizer and weed prevention.  

But, I can also be wary of the Trough of Disillusionment that could be coming.  For instance, the whole Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry has been pushing for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow them to be used above 400 feet and for commercial purposes.  Some have argued that the FAA does not have jurisdiction.  Unfortunately for the proponents, a court ruled this week that the FAA does have the authority to make rules regarding these autonomous vehicles.  So, it’s going to be more than a few more months before we will know what rules the FAA will put out.

Like many of you, I have laughed a few times at the sight of the Amazon and Google drones delivering small packages.  When I think about 65,000 pounds or more of freight being delivered by our trucks, a 5 pound package means nothing to me.  I’m not likely to call up Subway and ask them to deliver me a sub sandwich.  (Hmmm—but I do ask Dominos to deliver me something that is less than 5 pounds!)

I had a “blue sky” awakening while watching a TED talk on technology on the plane returning from DC where the meeting on the 21st Century Truck Partnership was held.  We all know that China is a great growth opportunity for trucking globally.  They will be building out a road infrastructure much as we did in the early 60’s.  But, what if there were a less expensive way to get freight to billions of people who are not connected by roads?  What if needed medical supplies could be delivered in minutes versus days in remote locations in Africa?  

We complain about no infrastructure for natural gas and electric vehicles.  But in other parts of the world, instead of investing in wires for power and communications, they build small power plants locally and invest in wireless communications.  I encourage you to watch this TED talk to get a new picture of a future for us and for the dark continent.  No roads?  There’s a drone for that.  http://www.ted.com/talks/andreas_raptopoulos_no_roads_there_s_a_drone_for_that

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