Industry News/Regulations

A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a Transport Topics “LiveOnWeb” session on Autonomous Trucking. It was a great discussion regarding outlook, how we get there, when we get there and what all this means for fleets, owner-operators and drivers down the road.

A big part of the session was driven by questions from folks like you. And while the session was over an hour (don’t worry, it wasn’t all just me talking…some other folks talked, along with some neat videos and graphics!), all the questions were not able to be answered live. So, with Transport Topic’s permission (Thank you!) I’ve pulled some of the most relevant questions and provided some answers.

Keep in mind, however, that with things changing as rapidly as they are in this space, the answers may be outdated relatively quickly. I’ll try to keep these up to date, so check back. And, of course, if you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to ask and I won’t hesitate to answer!

Let’s get into it:

Who is leading the way in automation developments?

  • Overall, it’s the automakers. I have my 5 year theory – if it’s on a car, about 5 years later it finds itself on a truck. (Don’t make stock bets on this, however!)
  • For trucking, think it's difficult to answer any one group (e.g. Original Equipment Manufacturer, suppliers, startups) because there is really an intermingling of all 3 to move automated/driverless forward.
  • I do think, however, that startups like Peloton (platooning) and Otto (autonomous driving) are making a big impression, as is Daimler with its innovation truck. Give credit where credit is due – they are capturing the imagination, and it’s all very exciting. But remember, a demo is not a commercialized product. It’s the last 5%, as someone other myself said, that takes years to get done right.
    • This is where the intermingling with suppliers and OEMs comes in…functional safety and other aspects involved with bringing a product from testing to production.
  • And, of course Bendix. Our Bendix Wingman Fusion collision mitigation system, combines information from a camera and radar to help drivers mitigate collision situations. Sensors working together – the first steps towards autonomous applications – and this technology is commercialized!

Have the issues with platooning been resolved regarding doubts that the following truck brake system could mitigate an emergency stop? If not, what needs to be done?

  • Having driven the platooning system for our fleet council demo last year, I have to admit I was very impressed. Brake lights come on the forward truck and my brakes on the following truck go on automatically. Pretty neat!
  • In general, if everything is the same on both vehicles, especially with regard to mass, braking system technology and tire maintenance being equal, on a dry surface this is likely true. This is what we saw in our demo.
  • Keep in mind, though, that the rear driver needs to be alert to what is happening in front of the lead vehicle - he or she can disband the platoon at any time if they feel conditions in front of the lead vehicle are changing.
  • However, it would be unusual that everything is the same. Plus, add a wet or icy surface and new challenges exist. Basically, a set of rules needs to be developed as to when platooning can occur and what order the trucks need to be in. As the NACFE (North American Council for Freight Efficiency) “Confidence Report: Two-Truck Platooning” points out, there is still work that is needed to be done to validate the safety benefits of platooning.

What do you foresee as the primary first use for any autonomous truck or vehicle within the next 10 years?

  • Off road use is already happening. Likely more along these lines to start. “Closed Loop” types of situations where autonomous makes sense and can be done relatively safely.
  • Platooning and closed area maneuvering - such as automatic parking.
  • Package delivery – smaller vehicles will gain acceptance faster than larger vehicles.
  • Driverless isn't likely to happen until 2035 or later. In the interim, more automated applications (such as safety systems) to help drivers in more situations and to help reduce their stress load.

What transition path do you see from basic two-vehicle platooning to fully autonomous trucking, and about when will each step occur?

  • Good question. Pathway isn’t platooning first, then driverless, however. Pathway is parallel – platooning will occur as will automated applications. Improving safety technologies to lead to more automated applications will be the route.

How much will autonomous technology add to current prices for heavy-duty trucks?

  • It’s really anybody’s guess at this point. A lot will depend on the applications to start. However, according to Frost & Sullivan, cost will be about $35,000 to get to an SAE Level 4 automated system performance on a commercial vehicle in 2035.

So what’s SAE Level 4?

In a previous blog (“Why Five?”) we discussed the “Federal Automated Vehicles Policy” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defined 5 levels of automation, and one level with no automation. These levels are based on the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) J3016 “Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to On-Road Motor Vehicle Automated Driving Systems.” As a refresher, here they are:

  • Level 0 = Human driver does everything.
  • Level 1 = Automated system can sometimes assist human driver and conduct some parts of driving task.
  • Level 2 = Automated system can actually conduct some parts of the driving task, human monitors environment; human driver must take back control when system requests.
  • Level 3 = Automated system conducts some part of driving task AND monitors environment in some instances; human driver must take back control when system requests.
  • Level 4 = Automated system can conduct the driving task AND monitors environment; human driver need not take back control; system can only operate in certain environments and under certain conditions.
  • Level 5 = Automated system can perform all driving tasks, under all conditions that human driver can perform them.

In levels 0-2, the human driver monitors the environment. In levels 3-5, the “automated driving system (“system”) monitors the driving environment.”

Okay, so we didn’t get to all the questions that came through – which means I have more material for a follow-up to this blog! And, Transport Topics has provided a link that may give you additional insights, as well. Here’s the link: Check it out!

Let’s keep in mind one thing – there are a lot more questions than answers right now regarding how this evolution proceeds. And, there’s a lot of speculation and hype. Some good, some not so good. A major technology breakthrough or a major incident can easily change the trajectory – shortening or lengthening the timeframe to when we see more automation leading to autonomous applications. My advice to you – stay tuned!

Remember, if any one could really predict the future, they would have made their fortune long ago playing the stock market or Vegas, not developing technologies or writing blogs!

Bendix Blog

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