There is little doubt that technology assisted driving both for passenger cars and semi trucks is going to become a reality soon. Almost every major automobile manufacturer has jumped into the self-driving automobile parade.
Not only are manufacturers working on self-driving vehicles but also the major technology companies including Google, Apple and others are working to develop autonomous vehicle technology. Recently, a patent from Amazon may be a signal that the company is intending to use technology to deliver goods more efficiently.
Other companies have already tested self-driving 18 wheelers for delivering goods. Recently, a self-driving truck made a trip across Colorado delivering a load of beer. The project was a partnership with Anheuser-Bush and Uber. While the semi had a driver, the driver reportedly spent most of the trip in the sleeper berth.
According to Uber, the trip was the first commercial shipment with a fully autonomous big truck.
Daimler Trucks has also been active in the design and development of self-driving tractor-trailers. Last year they released a concept truck that will “reduce accidents, improved fuel consumption and cut highway congestion.” You can see the concept truck here:
One of the areas that are being explored for self-driving vehicles is the concept of a truck platoons or caravan of trucks which have a lead driver and other driverless trucks following the lead vehicle. This platooning technology interconnects the trucks for such things as steering, braking, and lane departures. The concept has been tested to much success in Europe.
Truck drivers worry about being replaced by technology but the future looks bright for drivers because we currently have a shortage of drivers in the US and platooning may be a profit center for owner-operators.
Of course, the big concern of everyone with self-driving cars and certainly with self-driving big rigs is the safety factor. Having a driverless vehicle certainly is cause for concern of others surrounding the vehicles. This is especially true with 18-wheelers because they can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and a crash can devastate multiple other vehicles.
Experts estimate that truly self-driving trucks are still several years away from becoming more mainstream. Nevertheless, as this article is indicated, the testing as started and self-driving trucks are being tested in the United States and in Europe on an increasing basis.
Regulation of the self-driving big truck will be a very challenging situation for the FMCSA.