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August 15, 2016

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Self-driving trucks on the way

THE concept of autonomous driving is picking up speed in the trucking industry on the wheels of commercial value.

Earlier this year, Google patented a self-driving delivery truck, outfitted with a set of secured lockers to safeguard each customer’s goods. With the help of radar, cameras and lasers, the truck can find its way around and book delivery time with customers, who can then access their delivery lockers with a pre-arranged code, a credit card or a smartphone.

Such “intelligent” trucks are seen as a direct challenge to Amazon’s plan for drone deliveries and to UberRush, an on-demand delivery service that mobilizes idle vehicle resources similar to the Uber car-hailing platform. Neither drones or individual vehicles can carry loads as heavy as a truck can.

Daimler has started to test its automated driving technology called “platooning” in a limited area in Germany. It puts a convoy of trucks on the road, connected by Wi-Fi, sensors, GPS and cameras. The lead truck sets speed and direction, while those to the rear self-drive according to the signals.

With three automated trucks in a close procession, a fleet can save up to 7 percent in fuel consumption. The response time to an emergency stop is 0.1 second, much faster than a human reaction. Therefore, the safe driving distance between trucks can be reduced to 15 meters from 50 meters, saving almost half of the space otherwise required for their movement.

It’s an upgraded version of automated highway pilot and an example of vehicle-to-vehicle communications. The platoon idea is a free alliance, where truck drivers can join in or opt out by pressing a button in the cockpit. But the number of participants is limited to 10 to ensure a stable connection from front to back.


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