There are plenty of predictions, but what will the real uses of self-driving trucks be, at least in the beginning? Bryan Hansel, CEO of electric commercial vehicle maker Chanje, has a few thoughts on that as the situation may apply to the world of medium-duty, last-mile delivery vans.
"We see this segment of the market as playing a role," he contended.
He's speaking in first person on behalf of the company, not theoretically. Chanje's V8070 all-electric van was built from the ground up to be an electric vehicle, not adapted that way from an internal combustion engine-centric design. If you're already into deeply computer-controlled, all-electric operation, he pointed out, the vehicle driving itself isn't so much of a leap.
Chanje is targeting self-driving capability for its vehicles going forward, and Hansel compared the concept to automaker Tesla's forays into semi-autonomous electric vehicles and beyond.
So how will autonomy work in real terms for commercial vehicle use? Well, Hansel began with where it's not as useful, in Chanje's view: anything less than fully self-driving capability.
"We don't see a lot of value right now in doing some of the intermediate autonomous features," he told Fleet Owner. "This [the Chanje V8070] won't just be driving down the highway, so the fact that it could stay in its lane without you touching the wheel isn't that valuable.
"Fully autonomous driving is where we'd see our introduction, and that's our roadmap," he continued. Moreover, Hansel argued that it's not the technology that will determine when self-driving trucks truly arrive, it's the underlying government policy that's yet to be hashed out.
Even so, he said he sees a likely first use of self-driving trucks. "I would anticipate that the first move that we'll see that our customers can really benefit from is operating autonomously inside their depots," he noted. "The trucks all have to come into the queue to be loaded, and you could do that without drivers.
"That would save a whole headache and labor and improve efficiency," Hansel added. "And it would let us prove out our technology without any pedestrians or outside influence."
He pointed out that Chanje is looking to be "well-poised to break into the market" of autonomous trucks when the time comes, working from the basis of the V8070 platform. He suggested that electric vehicles have advantages in that regard.
"If you start with a clean sheet of paper and you write the CAN communication protocols as to how data flows through a vehicle and you harness it in all this connectedness from the ground up, you've got a vehicle that's prepared to be autonomous," he contended.