The future of truck driving is happening right now in Virginia. In the southwestern part of the state, Daimler Trucks and Torc Robotics, a technology firm, are testing autonomous, self-driving trucks. Daimler is the German-based automaker best known for the Mercedes Benz. Daimler Trucks recently announced the trucks are ready for real-life road tests after months of testing these vehicles on closed loop tracks.
Level 4 Trucks
These self-driving trucks are known as Level 4 vehicles, which means the vehicle can drive itself under limited conditions, as per the Society of Automotive Engineers, and does not operate if all conditions are not present. Under proper conditions, there is no need for the driver to monitor the roads or otherwise provide input. At Level 5, these trucks are completely autonomous and can drive under any condition.
The Level 4 trucks currently on Virginia highways are manned by a driver with special training and an engineer. Daimler’s goal is to have such technology on all its trucks within the next decade. The company states that not only will self-driving trucks cut down on the number of accidents, but will also reduce driver fatigue, traffic congestion, pollution, costs, and boost freight hauling efficiency.
Freightliner Cascadia is testing the technology by pulling weighted trailers for load simulation. The trucks are outfitted with self-driving software, along with cameras, radar, and sensors to aid the vehicle in identifying its surroundings.
Significant Job Loss
A 2018 report from the University of California at Berkeley stated that autonomous trucks will result in the loss of approximately 300,000 long-distance trucking jobs. The self-driving trucking industry is expected to grow by approximately 10 percent annually from 2020 to 2025. The market should grow from roughly $1 billion by next year to $1.69 billion within five years, and North America will have the largest market share in the world. Volvo is another company with a large stake in the autonomous truck market.
There is still a long way to go before these autonomous trucks are completely roadworthy and capable of hauling real freight. Before autonomous trucks share the road, their software must have the ability to handle inclement weather, which is a major cause of truck accidents, and the complicated situations truck drivers often find themselves in. Whether the technology can achieve these goals within 10 years remains to be seen.
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