Will driverless trucks be commonplace by the year 2030?

PHOENIX, Az. – If ‘ELDs’ was the most common phase uttered during Omnitracs Outlook 2017, ‘autonomous’ was a close second.

But while most believed the timing for driverless trucks rolling down North American highways was close, some find the notion more difficult to grasp.

“The path to self-driving trucks is probably sooner than people think,” said Wes Mays, director of OEM solutions for Omnitracs.

Mays picked up where the conference’s opening keynote addresses left off, touching upon some important factors when it comes to autonomous technology, including his opinion that the year 2025 would mark the start of autonomous trucks on the road, and by 2030 the practice would be considered commonplace.

“Improving road safety is not about any one item,” said Mays. “The car of tomorrow will be vastly different than anything we can think of today.”

Mays highlighted several of the technological advances that have been introduced to trucks over the past several years, starting with power brakes and steering, and progressing to automatic transmissions, blind spot detection, stability control, lane departure warnings, collision warnings, active steering and braking, platooning and autonomous.

Mays said several next generation vision technologies were already changing the trucking landscape, such as video recognition for real-time posted road speeds, street sign and light violations and yield/merge violations. Products that warn of tailgating, lane change, backing truck/trailer and vehicle passing prognostics only add to the multitude of advancements toward a fully-autonomous reality.

But for autonomous to work, Mays said precise vehicle communication was necessary, and for that to happen with the accuracy required, there was a need for what is called dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), which is used for wireless communication, specifically designed for automotive use.

“We need that DSRC system dedicated for traffic safety,” Mays said.

Mays told attendees of the Outlook 2017 breakout session that when fully-autonomous trucks come to fruition, to try and imagine a day when driving on the highway is so safe that a fatal collision is considered a homicide.

For some, this is difficult to envision in 2017. Many have voiced regulatory barriers and public acceptance as roadblocks to the idea of driverless trucks.

But others urge the public to be prepared, because it’s much closer than they think.

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and TruckNews.com. I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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  • To make a computer driven technology capable of functioning predictably in an almost unlimited number of situations will take a very large amount of computing capability and humans who have thought about every possible situation the machine might confront. Computers do a very good job of following commands they are given. Humans are surprisingly good at thinking outside the box. With a computer if it isn’t IN the box it isn’t happening. Me thinks your road to solving all the “outside the box” things a driver currently does will take some time before you take a human right out of the equation.

  • I think the idea is that no human will drive a vehicle period, whether it’s car, truck, or motorcycle. In that scenario, there is no human to take out of the equation.
    Picture if you will a room full of drivers, each monitoring 3 or 4 trucks at a time … remotely. The truck driver of today becomes the traffic controller of tomorrow.
    Watch the movie iRobot. That’s the direction in which we are headed.
    Whether or not it’s good or bad, only time will tell. However, the premise holds promise.

  • I’m sorry but your days of driving are coming to an end. Search and download “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy” from whitehouse-dot-gov.

    Page 22—
    AI, though, may allow machines to operate without humans to such a degree that they fundamentally change the nature of production and work. It may be that the question is no longer which segment of the population will technology complement, but whether the new technology will complement many humans at all, or if AI will substitute completely for much of human work. The skills in which humans have maintained a comparative advantage are likely to erode over time as AI and new technologies become more sophisticated. Some of this is evident today as AI becomes more capable at tasks such as language processing, translation, basic writing, or even music composition.

    Page 23-
    In theory, AI-driven automation might involve more than temporary disruptions in labor markets and drastically reduce the need for workers.