The automotive and trucking industry has seen a boom in the development and testing of automated and autonomous technologies. Development of these systems at Bendix is driven by increasing the capabilities of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to build a pathway to the future by evolution, not revolution. Today, Bendix applies these technologies to trucks to aid truck drivers. And we think that drivers, assisted by these evolving technologies, will be the foreseeable future.
This perspective and approach is nothing new for Bendix. Overpromising and underdelivering may be the purview of some venture capital companies pushing technologies that may not be quite ready for prime time to the market. But it’s not the vision of a company that has seen technologies – promising to revolutionize the world – never make it past the demonstration stage. Always keep in mind, demonstration is not commercialization!
The problem is the hype regarding when we will become truly driverless – both in passenger cars and commercial vehicles. Will there one day no longer be a need for drivers? If so, when? If so, why – what benefits does the fleet gain from the loss of drivers?
Questions needing answers always provides the perfect opportunity for a little market research.
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
At Bendix, we’ve developed our own thoughts about when autonomous vehicles will be truly driverless, or as SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) and NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) put it – Level 5 autonomy. But what we think and what you think may be different – so can we narrow the time frame and get to a realistic date? Can we determine the advantages? And how do we get there – cars or trucks?
Yes, we can. Just by asking. So we did! By doing a brief, online survey to the fleets that have attended our many demos over the past couple of years. We sought to find out what they thought. Figuring these folks are interested in advancing driver assistance technologies – by virtue of their attending demos and wanting to see what’s available and what’s coming down the pike – we believed it might be a good way to get a handle on questions around the automated and autonomous future. Our survey provides a directional view we think is worth sharing. Actually, we feel pretty good about the general consensus the responses indicate. That’s because we’ve correlated them somewhat by asking similar questions of the variety of industry segment participants we present to – and the results correlate.
What did we ask? Three basic questions make up this study:
· “When do you think we’ll see more than 50% of the trucks on the road being truly driverless (Level 5) and traveling coast-to-coast and all points in between?”
· “Which do you think will be first, driverless cars or driverless trucks?”
· “What do you see as the biggest advantage of driverless trucks?”
Let’s look at the results and offer up a few thoughts. And we’ll give you the opportunity to weigh in at the end.
When Will We Get to Critical Mass of Driverless Trucks? Between Now and Never!
Responses to question one, “When do you think we’ll see more than 50% of the trucks on the road being truly driverless (Level 5) and travelling coast-to-coast and all points in between?” varied greatly, with about 15% of respondents thinking this will happen by 2030, 38% thinking by 2040, and 33% going out to 2050 and beyond. Also, about 14% of respondents indicated they thought this will never happen! So it seems it’s almost anyone’s guess as to when we will achieve critical mass of driverless trucks on the road – somewhere between now and never.
And that’s probably not too surprising. Like political punditry, speculation on the future is fraught with a basic reality: No one really knows what’s going to happen until it happens. But, we all have opinions, we all have thoughts, and we all like to take a guess.
Driverless Cars Will Be First
One point that the majority of respondents to our survey agree upon is that driverless cars will lead the way. A whopping two-thirds of respondents indicated they saw driverless cars being first. Only about 17% felt that driverless trucks would happen first, while another 17% felt that there will always be drivers behind the wheel.
This result is also not too surprising – a lot of what we see in advancements today are around light vehicles. With much larger annual production rates for light vehicles than for heavy vehicles, it makes sense that cars would be first. We saw it with stability, we saw it with adaptive cruise control, and we saw it with collision mitigation on commercial vehicles. Why? A number of reasons exist, from more resources to more support. However, one clear reason is market size, which enables new technologies – and their components – an opportunity to grow rapidly, delivering larger economies of scale quickly that reduce the cost of components. Millions of cars are built annually, compared to thousands of trucks. So, components (sensors) needed to deliver a driverless experience can become more widely available in a shorter time frame and at lower costs.
One example is when we built our original adaptive cruise control technology upon an automotive radar. While we developed the commercial vehicle logic to make this work in our market, we needed a cost-effective component to make this happen. The sheer volumes available in the auto industry almost make it a quid pro quo – to get to autonomy on trucks, it has to start with cars. Cars need to lead, otherwise the technology may be too expensive to deliver to the typical fleet and will never make it to the market.
Benefits of Driverless? A Little Bit of Everything
When asked about the biggest advantages of driverless trucks, not too surprisingly, folks were fairly evenly divided in their response. About a third of the respondents felt that driverless trucks would lower costs for the fleets. This thinking is likely driven by the fact that drivers account for a significant portion of overall costs at the fleet (reduced costs), and that driverless trucks won’t be subject to Hours of Service (HOS) guidelines, resulting in improved equipment utilization.
Almost 30% of respondents went with safer roads. As we’ve discussed in other blogs (“By the Numbers, Parts 1 and 2 (July 6, 2017 and August 21, 2017 respectively), crash rates for large trucks have been increasing over the last few years. Driverless trucks should help reduce (possibly eliminate) crashes, so safer roads for all of us could be a likely outcome. Along the same lines, increasing penetration of driver assistance technologies – along with other efforts, including driver coaching and training, as well as stronger preventive maintenance efforts – should also help reduce crash incidents until the day we get to truly autonomous vehicles.
About a quarter of respondents indicated “more efficient freight delivery” as their perceived biggest advantage of driverless trucks. Driverless trucks are expected to save time – they can be better informed through direct communications with production equipment or loading points to help ensure delivery of goods when needed, or be ready to be accepted by the receiver. Fewer trucks waiting in queue to drop loads, fewer drivers waiting around for pickups or deliveries, specialized trailers, more hub and spoke systems, automated loading and unloading equipment, and other aspects all contribute to improving freight efficiency.
Last, but not least, on our list of biggest advantages is improved fuel economy. A little over one in 10 respondents saw this as key for driverless technologies. An autonomous vehicle would likely operate more efficiently; be able to participate easily in more fuel efficiency-gaining road approaches, like platooning; and be designed to improve fuel efficiency through advanced aerodynamics and lightweight materials. Without a driver, you don’t need a cab, you don’t need a sleeper, and you don’t need safety structures nor excess weight for added equipment to support the driver. Removing these items enables a more efficient design. As well as, quite likely, more efficient power train approaches – such as renewable electric power trains instead of fuel-guzzling diesel power trains – to lower fuel-related costs.
Of course, there may be other advantages that we didn’t list, which may sway the results a bit differently, and further research may open this up a bit. But, in the interim, given the four choices, it’s interesting to see a diversity of perspective.
Wrapping It All Up …
The results of our survey yield some interesting, if not too surprising, perspectives:
· Still a lot of questions regarding when driverless reaches critical mass
· An expectation of cars leading the way
· A variety of benefits for the fleet
So what do you think? Take our survey at Survey Link:
We’ll update the results in a future blog.
Who’s going to right? Only time will tell!
Matthew Manocchio, Bendix Controls Marketing Co-op, contributed to this blog post.
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