For several decades, Hollywood has fascinated us with autonomous cars, that is, without a person being in control of the vehicle. Fiction has fed our imagination with vehicles of different shapes and materials.
In 2014, that cinematographic fantasy began to emerge from the world of dreams getting materialized as an innovative self-driving vehicle, which the world knows as “The Google Car.” Using the software, the car identified the different objects that were around it (cyclists, safety cones and other vehicles) and made decisions regarding speed and correct maneuvers that are performed in real-time. This was the first step.
In that same year, Daimler presented its semi-autonomous truck under the name of “Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025”. While not exactly the same as Google’s vehicle, this idea meant the driver travels more comfortable when activating what is known as the “autopilot.” With the Highway Pilot system activated, the driver turns his seat 45 degrees clockwise, turning his driving position into a resting or working position to do other activities using a removable screen. In an emergency situation, the truck requests human assistance and the driver takes control of the vehicle.
In 2017, in Pferdsfeld, Germany, four autonomous Mercedes-Benz trucks were tested. In this case, a system called platooning controls one or more driverless units that are monitored by means of GPS and the connectivity between them, a pilot vehicle that circulates ahead. They have the ability to activate and deactivate the engine, activate the parking brake, to bend, to accelerate, to decelerate, to brake, to make gear changes, to lock and unlock the differential, to turn on the lights, among other functions.
Volvo is also in the driverless truck race. Brazil was the scene where the Autonomous VM passed the test and reduced the losses caused by the current trucks by 4%, which crushed the cane outbreaks and damages by up to 12% of the annual sugarcane production. The system consists of two GPS antennas which are part of the VDS system (Volvo Dynamic Steering), two high-sensitivity gyroscopes and a screen placed in the cab of the truck that functions as a man-machine interface. The lateral control of the truck is extremely precise assuring the tires do not pass over the shoots.
Alongside, Tesla presented the Semi, a fully electric truck that stands out for its design, mechanics, and performance. With the projection of a series launch for 2019, Semi equipment includes driving assistance and an improved autopilot system. Like Volvo, they have also developed the concept of a convoy, that is, a vehicle with a driver led by a column of autonomous trucks.
It is more than evident that autonomous vehicles are the pillars of future sustainable transport systems. Several companies are in the race. Another example is Scania, which will circulate in a platoon of autonomous trucks on public roads in Singapore while transporting containers between the port terminals.
Finally, as positive aspects of autonomous trucks, we can highlight cost optimization, emission reduction and a greater margin of road safety, according to reports from the International Transport Forum (ITF). It should be noted that 90% of accidents involving trucks have been due to human errors, according to these studies. The negative side is the destruction of jobs and the problems that these carriers had that cannot be updated to new technologies. The impact will be inevitable, the IFT warns that more than four million drivers could lose their jobs by 2030 when the use of autonomous trucks is deployed. Therefore, it is safe to assume the arrival of these vehicles is carried out gradually and regulated by laws that protect the driver’s employment.