Guest Posting By Russell Parker
Student, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
Automation in the transportation industry has been around for years, mostly in public transportation and in-house transports within company grounds. Autonomous freight vehicles, a new level of automation, will soon put driverless freight vehicles on public roads and highways.
Vehicle automation adds value to transportation because it reduces the normal costs associated with moving goods. Automated freight transportation will change the global supply chain industry in value added, outsourcing requirements, congestion, environmental concerns, safety, and lead-time.
Is There a Need for Automation in Freight Transportation?
According to the American Trucking Association, 70 percent of goods consumed in the United States are moved by truck, but the industry needs to hire almost 900,000 additional drivers to meet the rising transport demand. And as current drivers retire, newcomers are hard to find. The result is retailers delay non-essential shipments or pay higher prices for delivery. The shortage of truck drivers motivated Alex Rodrigues, the CEO, and co-founder of Embark, to pursue self-driving technologies.
Autonomous vehicles can assist drivers or operate on their own without human interaction.
Autonomous drones are used by the military and private industry. With the aim of improving safety, reducing environmental impacts, increasing efficiency and relieving the shortage of drivers, numerous companies are now involved in the race toward this technology because the demand and profitability are high.
Autopilot technology would require truck drivers to work as airline pilots do. The autopilot would control aspects such as acceleration, braking, lane-centering, and cruise control, as well as a myriad of certain traffic situations and conditions. Truckers would still be required to monitor these functions while maintaining high alertness should something go wrong with the system.
Embark has worked with technology that allows its trucks to move highway exit to exit without any human interaction. This technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) with a combination of radars, cameras, and depth perception sensors, but the technology still requires an operator to take control of the vehicle once it exits the highway and starts operating within city limits.
One advanced automation system currently in testing is driver-assisted truck platooning (DAPT). With this technology, one driver operates a truck, and its sensors, radar, and vehicle-to-vehicle communications operate several trailing trucks in convoy acting as a single unit.
Peloton, a pioneer in this technology, conducted a live demonstration of DAPT on December 1, 2017, in Michigan. The technology worked successfully and reduced fuel costs. This technology is also being tested by the United States Military with the Oshkosh Terramax Unmanned Ground Vehicle Technology. One operator can direct up to five vehicles in a single convoy.
What Are the Impacts of Autonomous Freight Vehicles on Supply Chains?
Autonomous vehicles will change supply chains globally. This new method will encourage new outsourcing requirements and companies, enhance the flow of materials, cut back on highway congestion and add value to transportation.
Automated freight vehicles mean more electronics and fewer engines and fuel consumption. Also, this autonomous technology would assist the supply chain industry to meet the International Kyoto Protocol’s 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.
Autonomous freight carriers are the way of the future for supply chain operations. As the driver population decreases and demand increases, and costs rise for both suppliers and consumers, autonomous vehicles will offset those conditions and allow the industry to continue operations.
Logistics companies need to prepare for automation sooner rather than later because this emerging technology is moving ahead quickly and those who fail to adapt will find themselves overrun by new suppliers and logistics providers who do embrace autonomous vehicles.
About the Author
Russell Parker is a Marine Corps Captain logistics officer and currently stationed at 29 Palms, CA. A Cleveland, Ohio native he has deployed four times in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom as a motor transportation platoon commander, company commander, and a joint staff officer.