The 2016 IAA Commercial Vehicle Show, to be held in Germany next month, will play host to a truck that can automatically drive itself into a bay in order to load or unload. Are those dubious mumblings I hear from you? Too close to sci-fi dystopias for comfort? Well, I thought I’d look into the recent drive for full vehicle automation in haulage work and share my findings with you.
Moving Towards Automation
As you well know, automation is not a new concept in the transport industry. Driver assistance systems such as ABS (anti-lock breaking system) and ESP (electronic stability programme) can be found in most modern cars. Other programmes such as active cruise control and lane departure warning are there to make our lives safer and easier on the roads.
Knorr-Bremse, whose new truck is making its debut at the IAA Commercial Vehicle Show, used their experience with these pre-existing systems to create their ‘Future Truck’ concept. Fully automated vehicles have not currently been approved for use on public highways in the UK, but Knorr-Bremse’s truck has a feature which allows driverless loading and unloading. Could this clever new system revolutionise haulage work?
How the Truck Works
There are a number of special features which allow the truck to manoeuvre itself in and out of the loading bay, stopping immediately if any danger is detected. There is an on-board environment detection system and brake, drive and steering control systems, operated using data gathered from a number of sensors on the truck. An app keeps the driver up-to-date with the automated process, meaning that he or she can return to the cab when everything is finished.
There are a number of advantages to this. The driver is able to spend less time in the cab, enabling him or her to take statutory rest hours for haulage work or to use the time to catch up on other tasks. Because the manoeuvring calculations are done with utmost precision by a computer, there is less chance of minor scrapes and scratches to the vehicle and no time is wasted by trying to fit into an unsuitable bay.
So what’s next? The Greenwich GATEway Project is a trial of driverless vehicles which hopes to prove the safety of automated cars and lorries in an urban environment. However, full automation is not likely to become a common feature on our roads in the next decade.
What is more realistic is the possibility of platooning on motorways. Computer systems will link a fleet of trucks, setting a uniform speed that will prevent the forced breaking or pointless overtaking that slows down all traffic and frustrates other road users. Unified communication will be able to overcome language barriers, making journeys feel less lonely.
Are computers out to take your job? Of course not – a driver will still be essential in any haulage work. However, the nature of your job may change. Time that used to be spent with your hands on the wheel could be spent working out logistical tasks for the company, and these new responsibilities could be accompanied by higher wages.
One thing is for sure: the future is approaching quickly.
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting logistics professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides services for matching haulage work with available drivers. Over 4,000 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.
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