Photo courtesy of Daimler AG

When it comes to autonomous trucks, it's an evolution

Sept. 25, 2018
The most important thing to remember is that we need to control the technology and not let it control us. That way we get the maximum value and the least amount of disruption.

“Four years ago, I said there was no way I was going to see autonomous vehicles in my lifetime,” said Denny Mooney, senior vice president of global development at Navistar speaking at the Autonomous Vehicles Detroit 2018 conference. But now he says: “We could see autonomous vehicles on the road commercially within three years.”

Whether Mooney has the time frame right or not is immaterial. The reality is that we are inching closer to having autonomous commercial vehicles. The advanced safety systems that are already on the market are the base on which autonomous technology will be built. And strides are being made in platooning which is also a building block for fully autonomous trucks. There is value at every step of the development process and I think there is a business case developing for each step toward autonomous trucks.

However, the move to autonomous trucks will be a slow evolution with lots of incremental gains along the way. Even automating some low-speed operations like backing up into docks, truck stop parking, and traffic jam movement can help drivers immensely. And as we all know drivers are one of the major struggles we have in this industry and one of the major costs of operating a fleet.

I think we are still a ways from vehicles with no drivers, but we are making strides to take some of the burdens of driving from drivers and making their jobs less stressful.

Like I said we are looking at an evolution — not a revolution — and we still face some very big challenges when it comes to fully autonomous vehicles on the nation’s highways. The thing is we can’t be afraid of these developments and we need to keep talking about them, working on them and managing them so they can help us when they can so that they unfold in an appropriate manner that brings value to the market. 

It’s an exciting time to be in the trucking industry given all the developments that are going on not just with the development of autonomous vehicles but also battery electric vehicles and even pushing the fuel efficiency envelope on diesel powered vehicles. The most important thing to remember is that we need to control the technology and not let it control us. That way we get the maximum value and the least amount of disruption. How did we view mobile phones, just a short few years ago?

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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