CES showcased the possible and plausible for trucking

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Continental offered an autonomous — and robotic — vision of final-mile deliveries.

The only constant in life is change, and the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) demonstrates that very thing.

The Las Vegas event, long known as a showcase for technological marvels, attracted tech experts from around the world this year as they clamored for an early peek at everything from Samsung’s 219-inch television to robots that will clean your cat’s litter box. Because we apparently need such things in life.

But in the midst of it all were examples of technologies that also promise to reshape and re-imagine trucking and transportation.

Peterbilt, which featured the prototype of an autonomous Model 579 in 2018, was on hand this year to unveil a battery-electric Model 220EV. Next door was the prototype of a hydrogen-electric truck to be tested through a partnership with Kenworth and Toyota. Both are destined for test fleets in 2019. And just before the show’s doors opened, Daimler unveiled an updated version of the new Cascadia – a truck that will be the first in North America to feature highly automated Level 2 controls.

Steps away from Paccar, Luminar was eager to show off the detailed computer images generated by its Lidar tracking systems. This technology transforms reflected laser pulses into the images and dimensions that highly automated vehicles can use to identify potential hazards. Reflected dots took the shape of a ball rolling into the street; the computer’s algorithms highlighted the shape of a child running in pursuit.

A nearby hall dedicated to automotive-style tech offered a glimpse at emerging and future tech alike.

Mercedes-Benz showed how readings from a fitness tracker like a Fitbit can be used to fight road rage before it takes hold, recommending massage settings for the driver’s seat and a soothing light for the cab. Other developers showcased systems that can identify who is sitting in the driver’s seat and where they’re looking, the 3D printers capable of generating vehicle components on demand, and cube-shaped autonomous delivery vans that maximize every inch of available cargo space.

Continental took a vision of the latter vans to a further extreme. A four-legged robot stepped out of its Continental Urban Mobility Experience (CUbE) concept vehicle, climbed a series of steps, and pretended to ring a doorbell before gently dropping off a package. Yes, it’s hardly practical. Many of our online readers were quick to snicker about the lack of snowshoes for Canadian winters. But like many of the displays it offered a glimpse of equipment that could be; a look at the directions that engineers are heading.

It all paints the picture of a future supply chain that’s increasingly automated and autonomous. An increasing role for battery electric vehicles. The in-cab systems that can respond to drivers rather than waiting for drivers to react.

The tech doesn’t seem that outrageous when you look at it that way.

Hey Rover, fetch me that package.




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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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