Facts And Fears About Autonomy
Thanks to the insights and input of truckers, friends, and fans who responded to my blog "Anatomy of Autonomy - Profile of a Self Driving Truck", last week, this article was born.
It is understandable that the "self-driving truck" hype would create images of semi-trucks speeding down the highways and trucking issues. The truck's most visible feature, Inspiration's autonomy, has caused serious damage to its reputation in the industry.
Many are concerned about the implications of autonomy for trucking jobs, regulations and pay. A Louisiana truck driver commented that good training is the best thing. Other drivers stress the importance of being responsive to their 4-wheel drivers. They fear that over-reliance on technology will lead to horrifying accidents, such as complacent drivers and computer viruses. This focus on futuristic technology is frustrating, but current infrastructure and equipment needs are not addressed.
Inspiration's appearance atop Hoover Dam was intended to grab the imagination and attention of the public. However, this revolutionary rockstar is not what people behind the wheel actually needed to see.
Forget autonomy-seriously. To truly understand the potential excitement and fear about the autonomous truck, we must look beyond that.
A la mode Autonomy
What's all the fuss about autonomy? If you consider the trucking industry as a whole, which is as much shaped by truck drivers and their culture than by freight and freeways, it seems absurd to be excited about self-driving trucks. Auto-autonomy is a hot topic right now. But efficiency is not easy to see. A self-driving truck will attract more attention than any other efficiency presentation.
Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), spent five years on a 2009 DOE "SuperTruck Challenge" to create a more fuel- and a heat-efficient tractor-trailer. DTNA's SuperTruck prototype was unveiled in March 2015. It featured the same 115 percent freight efficiency improvement as Inspiration and 12.2 mpg. This was great news for both the trucking industry as well as the U.S. Department of Energy.
It didn't accelerate across the international stage. DTNA needed to go all out to make this a show-stopper.
It might surprise you to learn that Inspiration's autonomic features were only added in the last six months.
SuperTruck's dessert was made more delicious by Autonomy.
Breaking News (Real)
Inspiration is still a SuperTruck, despite all the praise for autonomy. Efficiency is the real impact and significance of Inspiration. Inspiration is 115% more efficient than any other truck. It achieves 12.2 mpg while most Class 8 trucks only get 6-8 mpg. This is the kind of news that the trucking industry should really be excited about.
Inspiration is made of lightweight materials and has a 10.7-liter engine. It weighs 700 lbs less than the average Class 8 truck. The hybrid features an eHVAC and solar panels. For greater efficiency, automated features are available for fuel economy, energy, and safety management.
The Class 8 trucks weigh in at between 33,000 and 80,000 lbs (loaded to unloaded) so every mile saved in fuel can mean thousands of dollars each year.
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You Can't Drive It!
Inspiration is not a self-driving truck. This gives an inaccurate impression of vehicle autonomy.
Highway Pilot is unable to follow signs, change lanes or enter or exit highways, or dock by itself. Highway pilots cannot respond to an accident in another lane or to animals crossing the road. Inclement weather? It's okay to forget about it. Inspiration works best when there are clear, sunny days.
It can only stay in one lane, maintain distance from other vehicles, and control speed. Its greatest feature? It is very good at alerting the driver when it is time to take over.
NPR explained that this system only works on the highway. You could take the driver out but then the truck would continue to drive down the highway.
Inspiration's self-driving feature is similar to an airplane's autopilot. You can imagine hundreds of miles of uninterrupted road and see how similar it is to the way that a plane "flys itself" across the sky in the middle nowhere.
Technology of today
Inspiration's tech isn’t much different than the safety and efficiency systems found in cars and trucks today like anti-lock brakes or cruise control.
Inspiration's ACC+ system is based upon Freightliner’s adaptive cruise control system (ACC). It allows for speed, stop and go control without the need to be supervised by the driver. Daimler introduced the Highway Pilot system in July 2014, making Inspiration completely autonomous.
Martin Zeilinger, Daimler Trucks AG Head of Advanced Engineering, stated that "the Inspiration is evolutionary, and not revolutionary."
In-Cab Office Space?
DTNA repeatedly insists that autonomous systems can reduce stress levels and increase convenience. Sven Ennerst (head of Daimler Trucks’ development department) stated that "we don't want drivers to be eliminated." "We want to make their lives easier and more efficient."
Long-distance driving can be exhausting and stressful. According to DTNA testing, autonomous driving reduces driver drowsiness by around 25%.
Driving on unbroken roads is a major part of trucker's work. The route can be kept on its own, and drivers can often work from the cab instead of stopping at truck stops or during rest.
Truckers may not see this as a positive. Many truck drivers don't see the need or desire for trade the steering wheel for the book. Many drivers insist that being attentive and in control is just as important as other aspects of driving a truck.
Fort Wayne trucker, Indiana. He said that he doesn’t have to spend time catching up on paperwork because his paperwork is always up-to-date. He stated that he wouldn't drive an automated truck because it takes the fun out of driving and the work out of the job.
Rise of the Machines
Inspiration is not a threat to trucker jobs (currently, two drivers are required in order to drive a licensed truck), but it is a threat because of the technology that it represents.
Autonomy has one advantage: it minimizes human error. Inspiration cannot be distracted, tired, or start a shift over-tired.
Inspiration doesn't require a salary, healthcare or breaks. While freight movement will always require human oversight, some opponents argue that self-driving trucks on the highway will be more detrimental than highway-only. Many truckers believe the industry wants to eliminate drivers or reduce wages.
Richard Howard, DTNA Senior VP of Sales and Marketing, stated that "the driver is a crucial part of a collaboration vehicle system." However, technology exists today that could allow trucks to also enter, exit and park autonomously. Some car manufacturers such as Ford and BMW are currently working on remote-activated and autonomous parking.
Scott Santens, the writer, and moderator, of /r/BasicIncome, a discussion about the impact of poverty, inequalities, and technological advances on modern society, said that "if there are savings to find in eliminating truckers drivers seats, which they are, these savings would be sought."
As a cost- and fuel-saving option, wirelessly connected platoons have been discussed. For fuel efficiency, "drafting" is used to reduce headway between trucks. Vehicle-to-vehicle communications would allow three to five trucks to lock onto the truck in front, with one driver.
This is an example of how efficiency can impact jobs. Platooning would reduce fuel consumption by 5-6 percent, and eliminate the need to have 2-4 drivers for every 3-3 trucks.
These strategies are very cost-effective and it is reasonable to be concerned about the impact on jobs. It doesn't matter how it rolls out; the question isn’t whether it will impact the trucking industry or how much.
The Future of the Future
The most important thing for those behind the wheel is to find out how dangerous autonomy will be to future driving jobs. If the majority of truckers don't have access to these benefits, then inspiration, safety, and convenience won't be of much value.
DTNA doesn't believe the public is ready for big rigs to be removed from the keychain at the moment. Martin Daum, CEO of DTNA, stated that while society might be able to forgive a lot of deaths due to tired truck drivers behind the wheel, they will never forgive a single fatal accident caused by a fully-automated big rig.
Fear that automated systems might lead to negligence, complacency, or out-of-control highway disasters means that Inspiration is required to be driven by not one but two truckers at the moment. However, this doesn't change the outlook of many truckers who fear that autonomous driving could lead to negligence, complacency, or out-of-control highway disasters.
It is obvious that Inspiration's more-flashy and efficient freight carrier, DTNA SuperTruck can be a huge benefit to the industry, environment, and safety. We don't know where this autonomy will lead us in the future. Understanding what autonomy is, why Inspiration was created, and how it came about, will help us to make informed decisions regarding technology and the future.
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