1. Automated trucks

Automation will also reach road haulage. There have been pilot schemes to move several trucks as convoys or platoons thus saving fuel consumption.
Truck Platooning comprises a number of trucks equipped with state-of-the-art driving support systems – one closely following the other. This forms a platoon with the trucks driven by smart technology and mutually communicating.

With the following trucks braking immediately, with zero reaction time, platooning can improve traffic safety. Platooning is also a cost-saver as the trucks drive close together at a constant speed. This means lower fuel consumption and less CO2 emissions. And, lastly, platooning efficiently boosts traffic flows thereby reducing tail-backs. Meanwhile, the short distance between vehicles means less space taken up on the road.

At the same time, the impact of truck platooning goes far beyond the transport sector. Automated driving and smart mobility also offer realistic chances to optimise the labour market, logistics and industry.

However, truck automation will also apply to single trucks and smaller delivery vehicles, perhaps competing with drones. In effect, automation will mean a revolution for the road haulage industry everywhere.

2. Truck convoys tests

Volvo was perhaps one of the first companies exploring the idea of truck platoons

In the US the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) demonstrated a 3-Truck Platoon in Virginia in 2017. The experiment demonstrated a three-truck platoon Sept. 14, plying an 8-mile course on a state highway. The closest following distance between trucks during one of the test drives was 45 to 50 feet at 55 mph —a following gap of just 0.6second. Computers on the three trucks “talked” among themselves via dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), a type of radio using 5.9 gigahertz transmission. Volvo Trucks North America has been keen on platooning, working with University of California researchers and with Peloton Technology. The system used in the demonstration here was developed by the university’s Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology program, or PATH. The three trucks were Volvo VNL 670s.

A pilot involving three Daimler autonomous trucks driving from Stuttgart to Rotterdam as a fully connected platoon took place in April 2016. As well as demonstrating the scope of Daimler's own autonomous tech, the road trip is a part of the European Truck Platooning Challenge that aims to hasten the appearance of automated platoons on Europe's roads. The European Truck Platooning Challenge aims to facilitate the progression of autonomous truck platooning due to its potential to reduce congestion, cut down on accidents caused by human error and make significant cuts to the amount of CO2 emitted by trucks on the road.

The UK government has given the go-ahead for the first trials of convoys of semi-automated trucks on UK motorways. Up to three wirelessly connected HGVs will travel in convoy, with acceleration, braking and steering controlled by the lead vehicle, a concept named platooning. Each lorry will have a driver in the cab ready to retake control at any time. The government is providing £8.1m in funding for trials of the technology. The Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England have yet to confirm where the first tests will be carried out but said they were expected on major roads by the end of 2018.

3. Single truck pilots

A self-driving truck operated by tech startup Embark recently completed a test run from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Fla. A modified Peterbilt tractor, outfitted with an array of sensors and guided by self-driving software, travelled 2,400 miles over five days along the length of Interstate 10 across the southern United States.
Embark’s onboard technology handled nearly all of the highway driving, but a driver was behind the wheel at all times, watching the road and ready to take over if needed.

The cross-country run began in late January and the truck was scheduled to complete its return trip to Los Angeles on Feb. 6.
Embark’s current system represents Level 2 automation, where the driver is required to actively monitor the vehicle’s progress as it drives itself on the highway.
The company’s goal, however, is to further develop its technology to enable Level 4 automation, where the vehicle can travel on limited, specific highway routes with no driver at all. The company expects this to be achieved in "the next few years".

Embark envisions these Level 4 driverless trucks operating as part of a redesigned freight system, where trailers are exchanged between local drivers and driverless trucks at freight hubs situated along highways. The autonomous trucks would haul trailers from hub to hub on the freeway, but local drivers would continue to handle the more complex driving tasks associated with the beginning and end of each trip — from origin to highway and from the highway to final destination.

Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, another developer of self-driving truck technology, also has promoted the transfer hub model. In a recent blog post, Uber ATG argued that these freight hubs could generate an increase in local truck driving jobs that would more than offset an eventual decline in long-haul jobs.