There’s no doubt that automated vehicles represent the next frontier of automotive technology, with high profile brands including Google, Tesla and Ford increasingly invested in this space.
While there’s an obvious emphasis on driverless cars, however, automated trucks are currently expected to hit the market first. This is largely because these vehicles will drive the highest levels of profitability for manufacturers, thanks to their deployment as part of global supply chains.
Despite this, driverless trucks face many of the same challenges surrounding automated cars, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll hit the market anytime soon. But how far away are they, and what are the exact obstacles that they face?
The Inevitable Rise of Driverless Trucks
In many ways, it’s easy to see why driverless trucks remain the Holy Grains for automotive and technology brands.
After all, truck drivers represent the only humans left in the modern supply chain, which is now characterised by automated warehouses and blockchain-powered ledgers that deliver intricate data sets in real-time.
Eliminating driver-operated vehicles represents the next logical step for corporations, as they look to create completely efficient supply chains and delivery services that are increasingly cost-effective.
At the same time, we need to consider that human error is responsible for around 94% of all vehicle accidents, which result in an estimated 1.25 million deaths worldwide on an annual basis. There’s no doubt that the introduction of automated trucks (and cars) will dramatically reduce the rate of road accidents and associated deaths, particularly once the technology has been refined and deployed on a wider scale.
What Barriers Remain to the Introduction of Driverless Trucks?
Given the capacity of driverless trucks to reduce operational costs and improve efficiency, it’s little wonder why companies are increasingly active in this space.
While the technology that underpins driverless vehicles has been around for a while now, there remain several challenges to overcome before it impacts on the mainstream. One of the issues revolves around liability laws, which have yet to adapt to the type of automated technology that is already been integrated into vehicles.
So while brands such as Otto and Tesla are heavily invested in the production of autonomous trucks, there’s a long way to go before safety, liability and compliance laws catch up.
From a technological perspective, there’s also some work to do if autonomous vehicles are able to operate safely fulfil their potential in the future. More specifically, the accuracy and coverage of pre-made maps needs to improve for driverless cars to function effectively, while sensor technology also needs to be refined to identify potential hazards on the road.
This is one of the main reasons why Google is at the forefront of automated driving technology, as it can call upon its vast data sets and existing map technology to inform its designs.