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The Truck Stops Here - New Self-Driving Truck Technology Can Run For 12 Hours

by Joel Kranc - Published: 5/01/2017

The term “truck stop” may become a thing of the past as new self-driving truck technology makes its way into the industry. Early this year, Embark, a San Mateo, CA-based start-up, announced a new self-driving technology that would allow trucks to run continuously on highways from starting to end destinations, although city driving would remain at the hands of a driver.

While trucks are currently designed to carry about 12 hours of fuel, allowing for drivers to rest at night, the Embark system would carry enough fuel to complete its route without any rest breaks.

“This is truly a game-changer,” said Michael Macauley, CEO of Quadrant Information Services, a supplier of pricing analytics services to property and casualty insurance carriers. “It very sensibly splits the activity of truck driving into two parts—maneuvering a load around city streets, and long haul driving on the freeway. City driving is complex and unpredictable, so Embark isn’t trying to automate that. However, the vast bulk of the time a big truck is in use is on the freeway. There, full automation can safely be used—with a staggering boost to productivity.”

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The economic impact, according to a report from McKinsey and Co., could be staggering. Currently, the trucking industry represents about 64% of the value of total freight shipped. McKinsey notes the impact from advances in things like driverless trucks could reach as high as $1.9 trillion per year by 2025.

Driverless trucks are not just a dream of technology companies. Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, adjoining states that represent the heart of US manufacturing and trucking needs, formed a Smart Belt Coalition in 2017, to help encourage further development in this field. The research and development coalition is made up of each states’ departments of transportation, as well as the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and Carnegie Mellon University, and the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and Ohio’s Transportation Research Center.

Quadrant’s Macauley says one of the most effective ways to deploy “autonomous trucks” is through something called “platooning.” This method essentially stacks driverless trucks, one following the next, and allows for mutual communication. He goes on to say that the following trucks can brake immediately with zero reaction time, thereby allowing for greater traffic safety on busy highways. An added bonus is that platooning helps save costs by running the trucks close together, at a constant speed, which reduces gas consumption and CO2 emissions.

Macauley further states that industries such as insurance could be greatly impacted by the driverless truck. “The industry that’s really going to be impacted,” he says, “is insurance. Remember, the development of these fully autonomous trucks isn’t happening in a vacuum. There’s also tremendous interest in self-driving cars and buses, and maybe even passenger-carrying drone aircraft.” Given that the technology is complex, and still untested, and liability issues will be involved, it’s entirely possible that these technologies will be owned by manufacturers and leased on a long-term basis to transportation companies, he adds.