When most people think of driverless trucks, they think of a truck running from location to location without any human input (at least during the journey itself). However, the first thing to understand about driverless trucks is, at least for the foreseeable future, they will not truly be driverless.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but the process is likely to be similar to an aircraft’s autopilot. In most commercial aircraft the majority of the flight is dealt with by an autopilot system, however, the pilots are still on hand to assist with landing, take-off and (on rare occasions) deal with any unforeseen issues that may arise. The technology currently being trialed in driverless trucks works very similarly. Drivers will be needed to set off the vehicle, park the vehicle and perform any manoeuvres the computer couldn’t handle. This currently includes dealing with heavy traffic and complicated roads.

In this way, a driverless system is more like an intelligent cruise control. It will be great for long stretches of motorway, but congested towns and cities will still need a manual touch.

It is true to say that the technology will only improve, and it will almost certainly advance to a point where trucks can go from location to location without human input. However, it would still be necessary to have someone in the vehicle.  Trucks aren’t self-maintaining and there is some field maintenance that could only be performed by a person. As a result the prediction that this technology will eliminate the 45% of logistics costs that is currently taken up by driver’s wages is unrealistic. So, if the technology doesn’t save significantly on cost, what are the advantages of a driverless system?

Driverless systems will provide lorry drivers with an easier work life. Operating a lorry can be stressful and at times monotonous, but having a driverless system will alleviate some of these issues. It is also very likely that as the system becomes more reliable, the training requirements to operate heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) will be reduced. This will help bring new drivers into the market and alleviate the current driver shortage.

Crucially driverless systems are also much safer. Google’s driverless system was used for over six years and travelled 1.7 million miles without ever being involved in an accident where the system was at fault. When considering that HGVs are implicated in one in five road accidents, and over half the fatal motorway accidents in the UK, this improvement in safety will certainly be welcomed by motorists.

These benefits are unlikely to revolutionise the way your businesses operates, but will be significant enough to make many logistics professionals want to adopt the technology. And, as the systems are only going to improve, it would seem to be a worthwhile investment when it is available.

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