DALLAS — Gather a group of executives involved in some facet of trucking and let them start talking about autonomous vehicles, and in particular autonomous trucks, and the picture becomes crystal clear — they are coming, like it or not, believe it or not.
But they won’t dominate the market until mid-century.
That was the consensus after an hour of discussion by a panel of four Wednesday at the Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference under way at the Omni Hotel here.
The conference is being held in conjunction with the Great American Trucking Show that begins Thursday at the Kay Bailey Convention Center adjacent to the Omni Hotel.
• Josh Switkes, CEO of Peloton Technology, which assists commercial drivers and fleets with safety and efficiency.
• Bill Kahn, a principal engineer at Peterbilt Motors Co., who is the OEM’s manager of advanced concepts.
• Derek Rotz, manager of advanced engineering at Daimler Trucks North America, where he has worked the past 10 years to fuel efficiency research and development.
• Sandeep Kar, an expert in heavy truck systems and technology.
The panel was moderated by Paul Menig, who was head of electronics, brakes and safety systems at Daimler from 1994-2012, and who set the stage for the discussion by telling the audience of trucking industry stakeholders that “People are interested in automated vehicles, but they are scared. Right now, they talk about taking the automated vehicles to the vehicle they are going to drive.”
The advancement of automation is divided into four levels, with Level 4 being the most advanced and requiring no driver. Level 3 is about half automated, half driver involvement.
That’s when totally autonomous vehicles will have noticeably penetrated the market, but far from a dominant presence.
Switkes said platooning is a level of automation. It connects trucks through vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-cloud communication and begins with an active braking system that is always engaged.
In platooning, two tractor-trailers travel in tandem about 40 feet apart.
The cloud monitors the vehicles’ movement and, for instance, will apply the brakes of the trailing truck when the lead truck engages its brakes.
“The brakes of both trucks will be applied simultaneously and dramatically faster than the best human driver, who takes 1-2 second to apply the brake,” Switkes said.
Platooning also allows trucks to travel closer together and the aerodynamics saves fuel, 4-5 percent on the lead truck, 10 percent on the trailing truck, he said.
Switkes said platooning would eventually allow cross-OEM and cross-fleet utilization.
Kahn pointed to Peterbilt’s Advanced Driver Assistance System that was developed as part of a program to improve efficiency of Walmart Transportation trucks and designed to improve driver performance and equipment fuel efficiency.
Kahn said Peterbilt was “beating the bushes everyday” as it seeks to improvement fuel efficiency.
The Walmart truck has the capability of following traffic lanes autonomous of driver involvement.
“The system knows where the truck is going, where to start, where to stop and when the driver should take over,” he said. “The truck has proven to be able to eliminate 80 percent of active steering.”
Rotz said Damiler is looking to integrate and harmonize all driving operations as it develops autonomous trucks.