MIAMI — A new study on autonomous trucking conducted by Ryder System, Inc. and Georgia Tech is promising to be a road map for commercializing self-driving trucks at a significant cost savings.
According to a news release, Ryder officials say the research is based on real-world data.
“I’ve worked on a lot of different transportation problems in the past, and if you have 1% (cost) improvement, that’s magic,” said Pascal Van Hentenryck, chair and professor for innovation and entrepreneurship at the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) at Georgia Tech.
“Here, we’re talking about 29-40%, so it’s massive. It’s really massive.”
Already familiar with ISyE through the Ryder Charitable Foundation’s support of research and scholarships at the university, Ryder officials approached Van Hentenryck, who leads the Socially Aware Mobility Lab, about the idea for such a study, the news release stated.
“The challenge was for Van Hentenryck and his team of students and post-doctoral researchers to apply their multimodal approach for public transportation to autonomous freight transportation,” according to the news release.
Analyzing real-world data from Ryder’s dedicated transportation network in the Southeast, Van Hentenryck and his team developed an Autonomous Transfer Hub Network (ATHN) that combines autonomous trucks on highways with conventional trucking operations for the first and final miles.
The team then introduced optimization models for routing and dispatching, and evaluated the proposed autonomous network by comparing it with existing operations under various assumptions.
The analyses indicated that the ATHN with optimization technology can reduce costs by 29% to 40% for a large network, depending on the price of autonomous trucks as well as the direct and indirect cost of operating them.
“The team looked at our dedicated transportation network, where trucks and drivers are committed to specific customers. While that particular transportation model guarantees capacity 24/7, it also creates situations where our customers’ trucks haul empty trailers,” said Karen Jones, chief marketing officer and head of new product innovation for Ryder.
The researchers’ ATHN and optimization models significantly reduced the number of miles driven with empty trailers, which accounts for a large part of the cost reduction.
“In the transfer hub network, there is no need to return back empty after a delivery, and there is no need to limit working hours or to return to a domicile at the end of the day,” Van Hentenryck said. “As a result, only 35% of the automated distance is driven empty, compared to 50%. This means that even if autonomous trucks would be as expensive as trucks with drivers, costs would still go down by 10%.”
The study found additional cost savings came from reduced labor costs and idle time. Researchers also factored in increased flexibility in delivery appointments to keep autonomous trucks moving around the clock.
“In addition to the significant projected cost savings, I think this study is particularly notable because it is based on real-world data and addresses real industry challenges,” Jones said. “It’s clear that, in order to realize the full benefit of autonomous trucking, shippers, receivers, and 3PLs will need to evolve today’s operating practices to meet the needs of tomorrow’s robotic trucks.”
Ryder is planning several pilot projects with autonomous trucking companies Embark, Gatik, TuSimple and Waymo.
“Our goal with these strategic alliances and our collaboration with ISyE is to help accelerate autonomous trucking nationwide,” Jones said.
“If you think about ever-escalating consumer demands combined with capacity constraints, driver shortages, and regulatory and safety pressures, autonomous technology is on track to solve a host of industry disruptions.
“I think the work of Pascal and his team shows that we’re on the right track, and to have that kind of validation from world-class researchers at the top school for industrial and systems engineering—that’s priceless.”
The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.