Heavy Duty Automation

Zita Zigan, Director, Global Commercial Vehicle Forecasting

28 May 2019

automation in the heavy duty sector

The immense potential of smart technology to transform personal mobility has frequently grabbed the headlines in discussions around the topics of connectivity and automation. Yet the potential for transformative change in the HD space is no less revolutionary – and is, arguably, closer to being realised, at least in certain well-defined commercial contexts.

The rapid evolution of connected and autonomous vehicle technology has created huge opportunities for both OEMs and technology providers. Recent noteworthy investments include Bridgestone’s acquisition of TomTom Telematics and Michelin’s acquisition of telematics provider Masternaut. Moves such as these, in the connected services arena, underline the increasing emphasis, within the mobility industry, on providing complete mobility solutions.

Available now: ADAS

Rising demand for advanced safety technology, combined with falling costs, has driven adoption of ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) in freight transport and logistics. In Europe, uptake of ADAS features, such as adaptive cruise control, adaptive front lights, intelligent park assist, pedestrian protection, blind spot detection, and drowsiness monitors, has benefited from a supportive regulatory environment. Measures include the Advanced Emergency Braking Systems and Lane Departure Warning Systems mandates (see here), which came into effect in 2015; a new round of regulations will see an array of safety technologies become mandatory in European vehicles in 2022 (source). Key beneficiaries are likely to be providers of sensing and mapping hardware, including LIDAR, radar and cameras.

Available soon(ish): Platooning

Within the HD sector, truck platooning is likely to be a key application of highly automated driving and connectivity in long-haul road freight transportation. Truck operators stand to benefit from better fuel economy (average +7%), higher road capacity, as well as enhanced safety in reducing the potential for human error (the cause of over 90% of all motor vehicle accidents) – once the technology is sufficiently mature.

The European Commission’s strategy for future mobility (see here and here) envisages implementing multi-brand platooning before 2025. The EU’s Eur 20 mn ENSEMBLE project, which started in summer 2018, supports the standardisation of communication protocols for multi-brand platooning.

Off-Highway Applications

The most widespread initial application of semi-autonomous and autonomous trucks is likely to be off-highway. Autonomous haulers are already deployed in mining applications. Agricultural applications (ploughing, seeding, harvesting), likewise, appear destined to benefit from the productivity gains associated with increased automation.

Still a long way off: Self-driving L5 Trucks

It is within such limited contexts – characterised by low speed, low traffic, and defined routes – that deployment of autonomous HD vehicles will be most feasible in the foreseeable future.

However, the replacement of millions of drivers (see here) in long-distance trucking with fully automated vehicles is far from imminent. As in the Light Vehicle sector, so in the HD on-highway sector, the transition to L5 driving will be gradual and drawn out, owing to a multitude of challenges, including harmonisation of standards and technology, public acceptance, involvement of stakeholders (policymakers, OEMs, suppliers, logistics companies, drivers), and other motorway users.

A recent report commissioned by the UK government envisages global uptake of L3-L5 connected and autonomous vehicles (including trucks) accounting for 25% of total sales by 2035. Uptake in Europe and the UK is assumed to be ahead of uptake in other regions.

Full Level 5 autonomy, then, may still be some way off. However, so transformative are the advances in vehicle autonomy and connectivity that it will be possible to realise significant safety improvements, increased fuel efficiency, and cost savings in trucking long before L5 autonomy becomes attainable.

SAE Automation Levels

Source: Society of Automotive Engineers