NASHVILLE, TN – The technology needed to create autonomous vehicles continues to move forward, but it could still be quite awhile before self-driving vehicles become an active part of the trucking industry.
“I think one of the big issues is the Hollywood glamour of autonomous vehicles compared to the reality we are in,” says Thomas Balzer, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Ohio Trucking Association. “We’re really in the infancy of this thing.”
Many people don’t realize the work and research behind each simulated road test or staged delivery, he said during a panel discussion at the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual convention. “Every time you are using Google Maps… they’re collecting that data to map this, but we’re still long ways away from that Hollywood reality.”
Still, there is no mistaking the advances that have been realized.
“The [building blocks] are derived and developed from safety systems and driver assistance systems that we have. I think it’s important to understand the levels of autonomous systems we already have on the road,” said Kary Schaefer, general manager of marketing and strategy for Daimler Trucks North America.
The legal framework to allow such vehicles on the road is also being prepared in Washington, said Mike Cammisa, vice president of safety and connectivity of the American Trucking Associations (ATA). But even that will take time.
“Were used to the federal government regulating the equipment and right now it’s a little bit early for people to know how to regulate automation,” he said, noting how individual states are concerned about the prospect of fleets of automated trucks.
The discussion shouldn’t focus on getting rid of the driver, Schaefer said. “I think the focus for the industry is not how you remove the driver, or how you get a driverless vehicle, but how do you move goods from point A to point B as safe, efficient and reliable as possible.”
She believes the automotive industry will lead the charge as technologies become more advanced. It’s about more than developing vehicles or other transportation-related equipment, she added. It’s part of the race for artificial intelligence.
“How do you emulate decision making through a machine? And that’s what everybody is chasing,” Schaefer said.
Cammisa acknowledged that while autonomous technology advances, many companies recognize drivers as more than just a navigator.
“At ATA, we always talk about the role of drivers may change, but we see drivers still quite involved in the trucking industry for the foreseeable future,” Cammisa said. It’s why the association avoids using terms like “driverless” or “unmanned vehicles” and instead use terms like “automated” vehicles and technologies. At the end of the day, carriers will choose the technologies that make the most sense for their businesses.
“The driver has a lot of different activities that he or she takes care of through the course of the day and those things aren’t going to go away,” Cammisa said.
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