When it comes to the cutting-edge self-driving technology that will hit the market in the coming years, some of the early signs point to manufacturers focusing on trucks as the perfect conduit to show their concepts in real life. After all, if you take into account the industries using big rigs in daily operations, incorporating the technology into these vehicles is an important step toward development.
Thus, a number of companies are working on producing self-driving trucks. Note, however, that everyone involved in developing the technology agrees that a human driver is still required to be present inside the vehicle. That being said, the goal is to program autonomous systems to do the bulk of the work.
But in addition to the goal of increasing efficiency, another main concern is the safety of the truckers, the goods they’re carrying, and the other drivers on the road. So how can autonomous trucks help make roads safer?
At the very least, machines do exactly what they’re instructed to do. Human behavior and judgment, on the other hand, have high variability. When lapses occur on the road, they may lead to unfortunate circumstances.
It’s a known fact that human error has long been a major factor in road accidents, and truckers are no exception. In the US for example, Wired specified that there are as many as 4,000 fatalities each year from crashes involving trucks and issues like distracted and/or reckless driving are among the usual culprits. Self-driving technology for trucks essentially mitigates – or perhaps removes – that factor from the equation.
In addition, machines can constantly collect data which will allow them to ‘learn’ in order to make the necessary adjustments on the road whenever the need arises. Machine learning is actually used in CloudCar to provide better experiences for drivers. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same for road safety.
With digital maps already embedded in the system, self-driving trucks will be able to find the safest routes. The vehicles may keep track of traffic situations in real-time as well, providing enough time windows to exercise safety.
Plus, Technology Review tackled several aspects of self-driving trucks and mentioned that sensors and cameras may be mounted on the vehicles, giving them vision of the road far ahead. Maneuvering a large truck is entirely different from controlling a car. To give you an idea, it takes the length of a football field for a truck running at 55 miles per hour to make a full stop. Therefore, advance warnings will allow the system to enact pre-emptive safety measures if necessary.
Furthermore, connectivity ensures that important updates are applied as soon as they’re available. Likewise, additional hardware may be installed which will affect safety directly or otherwise. Apart from mounted cameras and sensors, another good example is the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) which automate tasks like logging hours of service and gathering other relevant information. Fleetmatics stated that the devices are capable of recording vehicle data that can then be used to scan for potential mechanical problems before they even happen, effectively keeping the truck from becoming a road hazard.
All things considered, self-driving technology is meant to equip truck drivers and operators with important tools as well as the knowledge to enhance road safety.