In the movie “I, Robot”, set in 2035, we can see Will Smith riding on an autonomous futuristic car. Now, in 2019 the idea of autonomous vehicles seems not that far, but its development might be different from what everyone might have expected.

 

With just-in-time delivery and last-mile delivery, today transport schedules became tighter and tighter. When technology moves forward, the transport industry has to follow to find the right solution to beat fuel consumption and minimize pollution. And what could help us partly solving these problems? Autonomous vehicles.

 

Thanks to research and development in the transport sector, today we have platoons of automated trucks that closely follow each other, able to drive for miles without humans or, eventually, by a single driver and increase fuel efficiency and safety. This is a major step towards fully automated trucks, even though it will take a long time to implement this technology.  We still rely on the drivers for now. Peloton, automated vehicle technology company, claims fuel savings exceeding 7%, 4.5% for the lead truck, and 10% for the following truck. Moreover, by electronically reducing braking times in the vehicles following the lead trucks, the transport industry will finally put the accent on safety and security for people off board and on board.

The forecast for the autonomous vehicles industry is quite positive in the long term. Level 4 and Level 5 vehicles shares of sales could reach 55 percent by 2040 (Source: IHS Markit). But why are professionals more likely to pick up this solution? Wouldn’ it be easier and safer also for city centers to have autonomous taxis and cars going around? This has mainly to do with two features of autonomous vehicles:

  • Cost. Adding autonomous vehicles technology to passenger cars such as the Toyota RAV4 could increase the cost of about 16% of the total cost in dollars. Are consumers ready to pay that price for a task they perform on their own? Professionals, on the other hand, facing every day fuel prices and safety concerns, are more likely to invest in this solution
  • Legal. There is a law to regulate everything, right? Well, not so much for autonomous vehicles. In 2017, half the USA, 26 states plus the District of Columbia, started to craft regulations for automated vehicle and several European countries support truck platooning and demonstrations. With the high freight transport relative to population sizes in some European countries (ex, Luxembourg  16 020 tkm of freight for each inhabitant in 2016)
  • experts say letting big trucks draft each other on the highway is easier legislators than solving urban challenges faced by automated vehicles, and more rentable for carriers.

 

To conclude, maybe to drive like Will Smith in i-robot while trying to do something else (i.e. save the world) consumers will have to wait a bit more. Autonomous vehicle, though, are very much likely to make their way into transport industry. Check the cabin next time you are next to a truck on the highway. Tesla is an autonomous semi truck that someone have already spotted driving around in California last year. The first tester will be Tesla itself, because Eleon Musk prefers to test them internally before filling orders from other companies.