Self-driving trucks sound like they should be in futuristic movies, like androids and phones that talk back to you. Life goes so quickly that we blink and the future has snuck up on us! The idea of autonomous vehicles is actually not new, as talk and prototypes have been in the works for years. Google looks to put fully manufactured self-driving cars and trucks on the market within the years 2020 - 2025; in fact, some of these trucks have already been licensed to operate in Nevada.
One of the ideas behind this technology is to reduce the number of truck related accidents. Drivers can fall victim to fatigue, stress, or other natural human emotions that cause almost 90% of those collisions. A computer, however, cannot feel tired or angry or stressed which would help make those accident statistics smaller.
Autonomous trucks will also help the environment: freight trucks account for about 20% of total transportation fuel though they only take up 5% of vehicle population. These self-driving trucks can reduce fuel bills by 4-7%!
The weight of a vehicle’s safety equipment can cause trucks to burn fuel quickly as can driving at high speeds, braking hard, and re-accelerating. Vehicle automation will reduce the need for such equipment as automated trucks rarely have accidents. Opposed to humans, computer-controlled trucks respond more smoothly when re-accelerating and when putting on the brakes so less emissions get spilled into the air and, thus, reduce air pollution.
The trucking industry has been worried that they will be out of a job should trucks start driving themselves, but that’s not exactly how it would work.
There would still be a human person in the trucks, however, who would take over the last few miles of a job by taking highway exits, maneuvering through city streets, and backing up to loading docks. The driver would also always be able to override the steering if he or she has to. Self-driving systems are not meant to replace drivers, they are meant to help them.
However, as of July 30, 2018 Uber has decided to put the autonomous trucks on hold to focus on its autonomous cars. A woman in Tempe, Arizona was killed by one of the self-driving cars causing Uber to halt the development of the cars until they can perfect the system to keep pedestrians safe.