I just returned from a couple of weeks spent in Germany, where I had the opportunity to see some incredible new technologies that have the potential to drastically and permanently change the industry and the profession of ‘truck driver.’
First, Daimler showcased its first autonomously-driven trucks, which can relieve the driver from his duties as much as 50% of the time at speeds of up to 85 km/h and drive the truck without human intervention.
The driver can rotate his seat 45 degrees, put his feet up, work on his computer, Skype his family, book his next load – you name it.
Daimler says its Highway Pilot system – which could be commercially available by 2025 if the government provides the legislative framework to allow it – will convert drivers from truckers to traffic managers, relieving them of the more mundane aspects of driving the truck and allowing them to multitask and manage their business while travelling down the highway.
However, they also hastened to add that a driver will always be necessary, to monitor the system and to take control when performing certain maneuvers such as overtaking. Not unlike an airline pilot, who is always present even though a commercial airliner spends much of its journey on autopilot.
Next up, ZF demonstrated a number of new technologies, including an Innovation Truck that can be driven at low speeds from outside the vehicle using a tablet and specially-designed app. Acknowledging that it will be some time before autonomously-driven trucks are allowed on public highways, ZF created a system that could be used today in truck yards and other private settings. It made backing a 25.25-metre double-trailer combination through a set of cones seem easy. So easy, in fact, I’m certain my four-year-old daughter could’ve guided that truck into position using her fingertip and the tablet.
And that brings me to my point. While these new technologies will initially be greeted with some cynicism, not to mention a healthy dose of fear over job security, I see it differently. I think these systems have the potential to make the profession much more attractive to future generations.
Kids today are born with iPads in their hands and how cool will it be to them to be able to back their rig up to the loading dock using a tablet? How great will it be for them to get a job where they can put the truck on autopilot (or Highway Pilot, if you will) and Skype with their buddies or make restaurant reservations?
Let’s be honest, the trucking industry has had decades to sort out its people problems and it has done a horrible job making this industry attractive to the next generation of drivers. Now, technology may be coming that can save it from itself and make trucking cool once more.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies