From the autopilot system, which many cars today already have, to a fully autonomous vehicle that does not need a driver, vehicles are becoming more independent every day.
There are several autonomy levels, but we are still waiting to reach the highest, fifth level, which includes full autonomy.
After Google's autonomous car collided in the U.S. town of Mountain View in 2016, the company's headquarter, many critics have concluded that the idea of autonomous vehicles in logistics is uncertain.
But they forgot about the fact that Google's autonomous cars covered more than 1.4 million kilometers without a single incident.
Despite this, many still believe that such technology in the logistics industry is not safe. Meanwhile, autonomous vehicles can eliminate driver-related errors, improve vehicle safety and ensure that goods arrive safely at their destination.
Drivers are responsible for 94% of car accidents worldwide, so replacing a human driver with a computer can significantly reduce the number of accidents and make roads a safer place.
But the question is, what will autonomous vehicle technology change in the next few decades, and when will autonomous vehicles in logistics become a reality? One thing is for sure - it will disrupt the logistics industry, which is currently facing a massive increase in the market size.
The concept of driverless driving and autonomous vehicles has been discussed for years and is increasingly being sought.
Expectations are that over the next decade, some parts of the world will make significant progress on this issue, depending on the sector and region.
Autonomous vehicles in logistics
Many people outside this industry do not know that autonomous vehicles in logistics have already taken over a significant part of the logistics processes.
Although there are still no autonomous trucks carrying tons of goods on the open road, autonomous forklifts and robotic arms are already standard technologies in modern warehouses.
They load, unload and transport goods within the storage space, connect and shape into flexible conveyor belts. These tasks require advanced sensors as well as prediction and geo-routing technologies.
In addition to warehouses, autonomous vehicles in logistics can also be found in ports, shipyards and airports. All of this is still a long way from autonomous driving on the open road.
The future of logistics includes large autonomous trucks delivering goods. These goods are then unloaded and put in place by autonomous forklifts using a network of conveyor belts and robotic arms.
Some truck manufacturers have already taken significant steps in introducing the first, fully autonomous, heavy trucks.
Advantages and challenges of autonomous vehicles in road transport
According to the McKinsey estimate, there are many incentives to work on a more autonomous supply chain: reducing the industry’s environmental impact and reducing logistics costs by up to 40%.
One of the main challenges is the issue of jobs. It is difficult to predict the exact impact of autonomy on the number of employees.
Because of the lack of drivers, an increase in self-driving vehicles is predicted. Self-driving trucks will require monitoring and assistance, which will lead to job creation in the long run.
The logistics industry often faces a shortage of drivers whose salary makes up about 30% of road transport costs. Autonomous vehicles can solve this problem.
A significant advantage of such vehicles, especially autonomous trucks, is that they can work 24 hours a day. There are no stops due to the need for rest, and driving is safer and more economical.
All this brings new opportunities and learning new technologies. Dispatchers will monitor trucks remotely and, in certain traffic situations, take remote control of vehicles.
Autonomous vehicles can effectively identify the best routes to reduce travel time, avoid traffic jams and drive at optimal speeds to maximize fuel savings.
Because of fuel savings and faster delivery times, autonomous vehicles can significantly improve logistics companies' performance.
There are several ways in which autonomous vehicles will affect the logistics industry:
Responsibility and security
Current liability regulation is based on the assumption that vehicles are driven by drivers who may be responsible in case of an accident. This does not apply to self-driving trucks.
The issue of accountability is essential for the future of autonomy because both regulators and citizens need a guarantee that the responsible party will be accountable in situations where things are not going according to plan.
Autonomous vehicles are safer, and the same is valid for autonomous vessels. According to research, by reducing the human element of transportation, human lives can be saved at a significant rate.
Machines cannot fall asleep behind the wheel, so more than 90% of collisions caused by human error can be avoided.
Autonomous technology may not reduce such an accident in 2-5% of cases, which is a small number compared to most situations where this technology could significantly improve safety.
Improving (human) working conditions
Truck drivers work overtime and are often separated from their families for days due to their work nature.
It needs to be considered how autonomous solutions can benefit drivers. One of them is to improve working conditions and reduce night work.
The idea of autonomous technology is to help drivers, replace them in hard work, reduce heavy lifting and the like.
The best results are achieved when repetitive tasks are redirected to robots and creative thinking is left to humans.
For the shipping and logistics industry, the future is and must be green. The industry will have to rely on optimization solutions using IoT technology and alternative fuel sources to reduce environmental impact.
Autonomous trucks will play an essential role in achieving greener logistics, reducing fuel consumption by 40%.
Prototypes of autonomous vehicles
A prototype of the Mercedes-Benz semi-autonomous truck will probably launch in 2025. The computer will not wholly replace the drivers, but it will give them more freedom in the cabin.
As with autonomous cars, the future of long-distance autonomous trucks will begin with more advanced versions of cruise control. Mercedes also said that this model would make long-distance logistics cheaper, safer and more environmentally friendly.
Mercedes-Benz is not the only company to have developed a semi-autonomous truck. The American Freightliner produced a similar prototype. The truck computer can take control of the truck on the open road and keep up a safe distance from other vehicles.
Still, this model can’t overtake vehicles that move slowly on the highway, but it does come with an alarm that warns the driver to take the wheel in bad weather or some other danger.
Autonomous trucks are becoming a reality in the USA
TuSimple has laid the foundations of the futuristic autonomous truck industry and works to make automated equipment a reality.
The autonomous control system used by TuSimple is based on a positioning and environmental monitoring system via two LIDAR sensors and nine cameras.
With its self-driving trucks, the company began delivering shipments across Arizona back in May 2019, on a 185-mile stretch between Phoenix and Tucson.
TuSimple plans to expand its routes over the next four years and have drivers and engineers in reserve just if something goes wrong.
By 2023, the company wants its autonomous trucks on routes between Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Florida, and hopes to expand nationwide by 2024.
Currently, only 40 autonomous trucks are in use, and the longest route of this truck was a 1609 km drive between Phoenix and Dallas.
What are the expectations?
Recently, we have witnessed many technologies that radically change the way logistics and supply chain industry's work.
From workplace automation, paperless distribution systems, to Big Data technology, these are all promising tools that can help increase efficiency and save costs.
Autonomous vehicles are among the latest technological innovations that have a broad impact on logistics.
Sophisticated computer navigation, GPS technology, camera technology and sensor technology have made it possible to drive vehicles without human intervention.
The adoption of autonomous vehicles means a complete innovation of mobility and transport logistics. In the next few decades, autonomous vehicles will play an essential role in the automated logistics process.
This technology will help drivers avoid potential dangers, calculating the safest maneuvers under challenging situations. This will drastically reduce the number of traffic accidents, but the entire shift of logistics processes to machines will certainly not happen in the next 50 years.
What can affect the development of autonomous vehicles?
Currently, the more developed part of the world is facing a significant shortage of professional truck drivers.
For example, the American Trucking Association (ATA) issued an official statement stating that the logistics industry is missing more than 38,000 drivers.
These trends will continue in the next few decades due to the impact of e-commerce. Today, many companies specialize in e-commerce logistics, which require dozens of reliable drivers.
Trends like these can accelerate autonomous trucks' development, especially if large logistics companies choose to help in developing technologies of autonomous vehicle manufacturers. This should come as no surprise as labor costs are among the highest costs of the logistics industry.
But autonomous trucks could solve this problem. In the early stages of implementing this technology, truck drivers will not have to worry about their job.
The truck driver's role in the transport process will be similar to that of the first deck officer of the ship. Their job will be to take control of situations where conditions become too complicated.
Although truck drivers could keep their jobs in the early years of independent vehicle implementation, most experts agree that the process will reduce the number of dispatchers, mechanics and manual workers.
In addition to the conditions we mentioned in this blog post, implementing autonomous vehicles in the logistics process requires regulatory approval and changes to the law.
Since most professionals think that autonomous vehicles will become available over the next decade and that logistics are largely profit-dependent, these changes may knock on our door even before we expect them.
Whether we experience a more assisted driving or fully autonomous experience remains to see what brings the next decade - evolution or revolution.
Until autonomous vehicles become our reality, increasing productivity and reducing costs is possible through automation.
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