Autonomous trucking may help logistics companies save up to 40% in transport costs, according to a joint study from researchers at Georgia Tech and Ryder System, Inc.
Researchers developed an Autonomous Transfer Hub Network (ATHN) based on data from Ryder’s dedicated transportation network in the Southest to determine how a network of driverless trucks may affect the transportation and logistics provider’s operations. The proposed network is made up of a series of transfer points where level 4 autonomous trucks—which are completely driverless and primarily designed for highway use—can hand off loads to conventional trucks for the first and final miles. The team used optimization models for routing and dispatching, and evaluated the proposed autonomous network by comparing it with Ryder’s existing operations.
The research team determined that an ATHN with optimization technology can reduce costs by 29% to 40% for a large network.
Mike Plasencia, group director of new product strategy at Ryder, said the project is the first of its kind, using real-world data to test the potential benefits of autonomous trucking, which is still being developed by truck manufacturers, autonomous driving technology companies, and other industry stakeholders.
“We wanted to generate our own thought leadership and, based on our network, [determine] how autonomous trucking would affect us,” Plasencia said. “We have been on a journey toward automation for several years. We won’t build the truck or code the autonomous driver [technology], but we wanted to focus on other services we can offer.”
Cost savings, improved efficiency, and better utilization of trucks are at the top of that list, he said. The researchers estimated that about 80% of mileage across an ATHN can be automated, reducing costs associated with having drivers on board. What’s more, they found that ATHNs have the potential to reduce the percentage of miles in which a trailer is driven empty by 17%. They also found that the larger the network, the greater the savings.
“After delivery, a [conventional] truck has to return home,” Plasencia explained, adding that autonomous trucks can take a load going somewhere else or run empty to its next point without the cost of paying a driver or dealing with limited hours that driver can be on the road.
Ryder is working on autonomous trucking pilot programs with technology providers Embark, Gatik, TuSimple, and Waymo, and is already collaborating on the design of ATHNs with some of those companies, according to Ryder.
“We’re pretty excited about [this technology],” Plasencia said. “We see the value this is bringing and recognize that we can’t wait until it’s here to get behind it.”
Victoria Kickham, an editor at large for Supply Chain Quarterly, started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for Supply Chain Quarterly's sister publication, DC Velocity.