The question of when and if we will ever see autonomous trucks on our roads or in fact roads any where around the world is one of the most asked questions in the automotive world.
Before we see autonomous trucks there are questions that many people would like clarity on around this cutting-edge technology. For instance, what kind of trucks will they be? When will we see autonomous trucks on the road? And how fast will the rollout be?
The answer to these questions depends in part on how autonomy is defined.
On a six-point scale from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), driving automation ranges from 0 (fully manual) to 5 (fully autonomous). Companies including the US based TORC and TuSimple are currently competing to bring level 4 trucks to market.
Level 4 trucks can provide all driving under certain conditions. In the near-term, those conditions would include departing from a depot or distribution centre close to a freeway, driving on freeways and then arriving at a depot or distribution centre close to the exit of a freeway. Executives at TORC argue, and most other experts agree that we won’t see Level 4 autonomous big rigs rigs for several years.
In the USA however there is another kind of autonomous heavy duty truck that doesn’t neatly fit the SAE’s scale that will be deployed starting this year.
Locomation’s Autonomous Relay Convoy (ARC) solution enables one driver to pilot a lead truck while a follower truck operates in tandem through Locomation’s system. This allows the follower driver to log off and rest while the truck is in motion. This will allow drivers to drive twice as far while ensuring they don’t exceed mandated hours of driving regulations.
These convoy trucks are under an SAE Level 2 system because they are still controlled by a human in the lead truck despite the automation in the follower truck.
Mr. Meriçli pointed out that when it comes to “controlling an 40 tonne truck at highway speeds, there is no such thing as a minor collision. There needs to be indisputable evidence the autonomous truck is safe.” Meriçli said.
“Some autonomous truck companies are trying to “brute force” the safety issues by collecting more and more data, using more and more sensors, and they end up with an autonomous hardware package that costs half a million dollars,” he said
“:Let’s face it where is the ROI in that?” he added.
“With Locomation, however, we say the hardware costs are much less and there can be payback in a year,” he said.
“In the USA there are federal regulations in place to ensure highway safety. The US Federal law requires that commercial vehicles be able to detect and fix shifts in cargo,” Meriçli continued.
“If the load shifts midway on a trip, federal law mandates that the truck needs to pull over, traffic triangles need to be put out, and then the load needs to be rebalanced, but how could this be done without a driver?, he said.
“In short, there are edge cases for autonomous driving that have not yet been addressed,” he added.
In the Locomation model, the lead truck is being actively driven by one driver, the follower truck also has a driver that is not engaged. In that instance the driver is resting or sleeping.
Locomotion says that with its system the loads/shipments/orders/trailers don’t have to have the same origin and destination, a trailer could be dropped.
The company’s business model is based on driving 1300km to 1900 km per day in a convoy formation with between 90 per cent and 99 per cebnt in Autonomy mode.
It is Locomation’s job not just to sell its trucks in a software as a service (SaaS) model, but to provide orchestration services as part of the SaaS agreement. These services include identifying the lanes and multi-stop routing that maximizes the ROI.
Asked about the trch associated with using different types of trucks, with different brake systems, different tyres, and different loads and whether this could make it difficult to have the lead truck brake and the follower truck brake at exactly the same rate of de-cceleration?