Re-writing the rules of freight transportation

Published: Monday, February 15, 2016

Driverless trucks and locomotives will soon become an
economic imperative for freight railroads and motor carriers,
changing the economic aspects of shipping.

As high-tech companies create driverless autos, the freight
industry is taking a shot at the comparable for trucks and trains.
Moving to driverless freight transportation could resolve longstanding
issues of truck driver shortages, significantly cutting
costs for freight companies. Additionally, the technology
could be more fuel effective than human drivers and more
robustregarding accidents.

A recent survey conducted by the Technology and Maintenance
Council (TMC) and the American Transportation Research (ATRI)
indicated that the majority of the trucking executives expect
AVs to become reality at some future point.

Sebastian Stefan, CEO of, noted, “The technology
to build and operate autonomous trucks is already available
and can be implemented once the costs will be lower than the
driver’s salary.”

Highway Pilot

Autonomous vehicles are driven by an automated system called
Highway Pilot. The human does the thinking and leaves the
driving to the computer.

Wolfgang Bernhard, the member of the Daimler Board of
Management, observed, “The driver is seated behind the wheel,
he is staring at a tablet computer, planning his next trip and
then checking the condition of the freight stored on smart
pallets in the semi-trailer.”

Eliminating the human factor

Experts claim a reduction in road accidents, bearing in mind
that the autonomous trucks are only designed for long distance
driving. The significant benefit over long distance is to support
driver fatigue that is one of the leading causes of accidents. The
reality of other causative factors remains, including reduced
maintenance and tire conditions.

Brent Melvin, General Manager, Supply Chai Division of
Massar Solutions, noted, “If one is to assume a driver over a
long distance can rely on the truck to drive autonomously,
this would mean the driver can focus on other tasks at the
same time, making the driver far more productive if he is
planning ahead for off-loading, return loads or paperwork
completion. The level of theautonomous truck will not allow
for a driver to sleep during the highway leg as the driver
needs to be on standby to take over in any adverse driving

“Furthermore, autonomous trucks will be programmed with the
ability to draft closely one behind the other, with the benefit
of fuel reduction as a result of streamlining. The front truck will communicate critical data like braking and acceleration to the
other trucks to maintain distance and safety for all.”
Sebastian Stefan, CEO, load, said, “Trucks will become
more efficient if they are controlled by a restless robot that
does not need to sleep or take lunch breaks. I believe that fuel
consumption will slightly be lower and delivery time more
accurate once you eliminate the human factor.”

A compelling technology

Road safety is a crucial proponent for any road user and
given that drivers spend so many hours behind the wheel
concentrating on the road, any support that can be provided is
a benefit for the driver and the road users around him.
Sebastian Stefan, CEO,, remarked, “For the level
three autonomous systems where driver has to be present on
the seat and is just assisted by a ‘highway auto-pilot’, this acts
like an active safety system correcting the driving mistakes
whenever needed, and drivers will always commit errors that if
not corrected can lead to tragic events.”

Resolving problems

Driver fatigue is a major concern and monitored very carefully
in European markets, limiting driving hours to reduce mistakes
and distractions. The autonomous trucks allow an operator
to focus on other things in cabwhile the vehicle moves along
the road and will only signal the driver for support in adverse
conditions. This time away from concentrating on the road reduces his overall sleepiness by as much as 25% according to a
tracking study performed by Freightliner.

Sebastian Stefan, CEO,, said,“The driver gains trust in
their truck if it is fitted with active safety systems and can drive
the vehicle inmore confidence and in a relaxed way by reducing
fatigue, and he can concentrate more on important tasks and
won’t be distracted by repetitive jobs.

“A technology system can be programmed to be better than
a human for repetitive tasks. So we will have ant speeding or
chaotic driving behavior or personal problems as you might
have with a human driver.”

Freight industry revolution

Autonomous trucks have more sensors to measure data from
the environment and a control system that can drive the

Freight experts claim that this technology can and will rewrite
the current rules of transportation, by driving the costs
down shipments between the logistics hubs and to become
something different between railway cargo and traditional

Sabina Jeschke, the professor at the Department of Computer
Science in Mechanical Engineering at the Rheinisch-
Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) in Aachen, said,
“this kind of processes are based upon the flexible exchange of information between machines, vehicles, warehouses and other
elements of industrial process chains, forms the backbone of
what is referred to as a ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

The future of autonomous trucks

Autonomous trucks, while under development and testing, and
are not fully autonomous and secondly it is only being tested
for long haul vehicles where long distance highway driving is
the major part of the journey.

These autonomous trucks still require a driver present in the cab
to navigate city limits, lane changes and bad weather driving as
the vehicles are not developed enough for its kind of activity.
Brent Melvin, General Manager, Supply Chai Division of Massar
Solutions, added, “The future looks positive for autonomous
trucks as we see major markets passing legislation to allow
this type of vehicle, but the likelihood of driverless vehicles
is far from reality this decade. Other factors to consider is the
relationship between the driver and the goods he is responsible
for delivering. Mechanisms would have to be established to
manage the loading, Customs clearance and offloading of cargo
if drivers where not present.”

From trucker to logistics expert

Autonomous commercial vehicles will change freight traffic, and
that is the major opportunity for the logistics industry. After all,
the transport industry is having to face the two-fold challenge
of a distinct lack of junior talent and the image of a trucker as a
less-than-attractive career option. The need for action in light
of these facts was shown in the first study on the future of truck
driving conducted with the aid of automobile parts supplier ZF
Friedrichshafen and published in 2012: A resounding 87% of firsttime
employees surveyed named better-working conditions as
an important goal of future developments. Nothing has changed
since then, as seen in a second study released by ZF in 2014.
GCC driverless transportation

According to the recent study conducted by management consultancy Strategy&, autonomous trucks that operate
independently, are an emerging technology with significant
potential benefits for the GCC countries.

Today, most freight moves inside and amongst the GCC nations
by road. More than one million trucks are currently in operation
across the region, and this number increases by 5-9% each year,
the report said.

This growth trend poses significant challenges for the region’s
economies and environment, as GCC countries experience
more pollution, road accidents and traffic congestion due to the
high volume of trucks on the roads.

Dr. Ulrich Kogler, Partner with Strategy& in Dubai said,
“GCC countries will benefit from autonomoustrucks more
than any other region in the world. The technology can
reduce fuel costs, dramatically decrease the number and
cost of anaccident, reduce expatriate labor and create
high value added technology jobs and firms. By thinking
proactively about these issues, GCC countries have a real
opportunity to become a global leader in an evolving

The industry holds the potential to create new high-value
technology jobs, such as software developers, data analysts and
programmers and control center operators. Autonomous trucks
would also reduce the region’s reliance on expatriate labor.
Outlining the appropriate conditions required for driverless
trucks to be truly viable in the GCC, Fadi Majdalani, Partner
with Strategy&, said, “Policymakers will need to develop a
legal framework and regulations that can accommodate and
support autonomous vehicles. The region should also start
preparing regarding road infrastructure, and pushing for the
development of such technology with manufacturers to create
the appropriate environment for the introduction of driverless