Commercial truck technology experts disputed the notion that connected, autonomous vehicles are still many years away from everyday reality.
Connected trucks in platoon operation could be on U.S. roadways within three years, according to experts on Fleet Owner’s The Connected Truck panel at the Mid-America Trucking Show.
“I think we will see platooning in the 2018-2019 timeframe,” said Fred Andersky, director, customer solutions-controls, for Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems. “But, it will be in really [specialized] applications.”
Wallace Lau, senior industry analyst-commercial vehicle research for Frost & Sullivan, agreed that Andersky’s timeframe was reasonable.
“It still comes down to operations,” he said. “I think as it matures and fleets see the benefits, it will gain, but I think it will start slow.”
The panel covered a range of topics related to connectivity, including vehicle maintenance opportunities through the ability to project when a component may fail and replace it beforehand. “[Prognostics] is the next step we’re moving into – fixing items before they even break,” Lau said.
Thayne Boren, general manager of Truckstop.com, had a different take on how connected technologies and the connected truck can improve operations. “I see tremendous opportunity in parking. I see opportunity in fuel and where to fuel up, and the chance to optimize [repairs and the scheduling of repairs],” he said.
Lau suggested that rather than turn off drivers, a connected truck could appeal to a new generation of works that otherwise might not have considered the industry.
“The future truck is a connected truck, but it could be used to attract younger drivers by [letting] them connect with families,” he said.
Boren sees connected technologies also increasing driver satisfaction. “There’s an opportunity to look at your driver retention and not just who is not performing, but who you should be rewarding,” he said.
What the industry has achieved so far in truck connectivity, is just the “tip of the iceberg,” explained Lau.
“That market is worth $3.5 billion today,” he said. But with only 46.1% of fleets using connected technologies (27% of which run Class 4 and up vehicles), there is still great growth opportunity, Lau noted.
The larger the fleet, he said, the more likely they are to use some form of connected technologies, including items such as advanced safety systems. Among small fleets, only 4.1% use such technologies, with that number growing to 32.2% of medium sized fleets and 55.4% of large fleets.
Among the areas that are in the tip right now are vehicle, driver and fuel management. But, he said other areas could be tapped with increased use of current and developing connected vehicle technologies. These areas include order management, driver behavior and training, prognostic and repair management, and warranty optimization. Going even deeper into the iceberg, areas include advanced driver assistance system integration, automated driving/platooning, usage based insurance and transport management.
Lau said that a great opportunity exists in the “mobile based brokering” model, i.e. the uberization of freight. With 30% of all miles traveled by U.S. trucking companies still empty miles, the amount of wasted fuel, productivity and asset utilization remains high. All this, he says, can lead to increased driver fatigue from unnecessary miles and increased congestion that results in lower productivity.