December 17, 2014 Vol. 11 No. 26

The seemingly relentless push toward autonomous vehicles accelerated a little with the recent publication of a comprehensive report on the subject by German logistics giant DHL, which morphed out of the country’s post office.

“The next evolutionary step,” according to DHL, will be moving self-driving vehicles – already common on warehouse floors – onto public roads. It predicts that we’ll see self-driving truck convoys before too long, though no timeline is offered.

DHL’s new trend report — ‘Self-Driving Vehicles in Logistics’ — highlights the key elements and significant potential of autonomous technologies in the logistics industry.

“Some warehouse operations have been using self-driving vehicles to some extent for years, but making driving in logistics more and more autonomous will change the logistics sector dramatically,” said Dr. Markus Kückelhaus, director of DHL Trend Research. “Moving onto public roads is the next evolutionary step. With its history in deploying self-driving solutions in controlled environments, the logistics industry is in a prime position to further shape the future of self-driving vehicles.”

He suggests that DHL, with its partners and customers, can take a leading role on this path. Bosch and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology were involved in the report’s making.

As a first step in the future of self-driven vehicles, the report contains various best-practice applications from different industries and also examines cases of self-driving vehicles used across the entire logistics industry.

The report anticipates, first, further enhancements to existing driver-assistance functions like active cruise control and other safety-oriented tools.

“Next,” the report says, “we can anticipate the introduction of autonomous driving in specific situations – for example, on congested highways and with strict low speed limits at first, although speeds will be allowed to increase over time. In parallel or soon after situation-specific autonomous driving, we should see an increase in low-speed driverless passenger transportation vehicles in non-public areas.