Home' MHD Supply Chain Solutions : MHD Mar-Apl 2017 Contents already exist, but are not yet commercially
available for road use everywhere. Gartner
predicts that less than one per cent of long-
haul road freight will be carried by autonomous
trucks by 2021.
The most likely short-term potential is in
driver assisted technologies, such as lane
control, assisted braking and adaptive cruise
control, which are gaining rapid acceptance.
The concept will, however, evolve quickly,
with autonomous trucks expected to hit the road
in less than a decade. Investments are already
pouring into the new technologies as first
movers jockey for leadership positions.
The trucking industry’s desire to embrace
autonomous vehicles is influenced by the
belief that early adopters will gain market share
with a more profitable operating model. This
is aided by favourable regulations and public
acceptance, while potentially solving some
of the industry’s plaguing challenges. After
fuel costs, driver pay is the second-largest
operating cost of a commercial truck, and safety
regulations limit the amount of time a human
can operate behind the wheel.
What are the current challenges?
Safety in road transport remains a big issue for
carriers, shippers, the public and the government.
Current safety mandates, like electronic logging
devices and hours of service, can only go so far
when humans are behind the wheel. Early testing
of autonomous vehicles or even technology-
assisted, semi-autonomous vehicles is providing
evidence of improved operating safety.
It’s also hoped that autonomous trucks will
play a role in alleviating the driver shortage the
industry is currently facing. Trucking (especially
the long-haul sector) faces an image crisis due
to the long working hours, long periods of time
away from home, dangerous nature of the work,
and relatively low pay. Although autonomous
vehicles won’t solve the immediate driver
shortage, they will increase the kilometres driven
per vehicle per year, which will greatly increase
How will driverless trucks evolve?
We are likely to first see convoys of remotely
guided trucks doing the more routine, less
desired, yet dangerous work of hauling across
the network of interstate highways. Hubs near
urban locations could be staffed with drivers
who can do the more skilled driving required
in the final kilometres. This could mitigate the
weary long-haul driver problem and the lifestyle
burden of time away from home.
The move to autonomous trucks has the
potential to transform an old, stodgy, industrial
age-industry into a high-tech one. Tomorrow’s
truck drivers being hired as technology-enabled
supply chain professionals could reverse the
shortage problem and might also justify higher
pay for a more desired job.
What is certain is that autonomous trucks will
become reality at some point in the future. It’s a
matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’.
Where do you start?
When planning for your autonomous future,
it’s important to:
• Consider how autonomous vehicles could
impact your supply chain. It’s unlikely your
company could afford to turn over its entire
fleet at once. By starting now, you can
still take an incremental approach using
technology as it emerges.
• Allocate a small, technically competent
team to research and evaluate government
regulations and emerging autonomous
capabilities being added to current vehicles.
• Study how autonomous vehicles could impact
transportation capabilities for external and
internal customers, including increased capacity
availability and service-time extensions.
• Seek out trucking firms embracing
autonomous vehicles. Some firms may want to
partner with shippers initially to pilot the new
capability, while sharing some of the risks.
Greg Aimi is a research director at Gartner,
focusing on global logistics, transportation
and distribution strategies and best practices,
including planning and execution, performance
management, use of logistics outsourcing (3PL)
and global logistics management. His work has
focused on the optimisation and automation of
supply chain functions in response to changing
execution dynamics. For more information, visit
“What is certain is that autonomous trucks
will become reality at some point in the future.
It’s a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’.”
MHD SUPPLY CHAIN SOLUTIONS — MARCH / APRIL 2017
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