The importance of autonomous vehicles for the transport industry

The importance of autonomous vehicles for the transport industry

Autonomous driving promises not only safety on the road but also greater efficiency and cost savings in logistical processes. The often very media-effective topic of self-driving cars and trucks had again shown an upswing in the last week. The Federal Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt has agreed, in cooperation with his French counterpart Alain Vidalies to a cross-border test track, « [to] set the global standards for this key technology. », as per Dobrindt. However, on at which state are the technical and legal foundations?

Autonomous driving has already been tested for years

Already in 2015, the first test stretch on the A9 between Munich and Nuremberg for semi-automated driving was released, whereby the system takes over certain functions of the driver, however, the driver is still in full responsibility and the hands remain on the steering wheel. In particular, the « car-to-car » and « car-to-infrastructure » communication should be tested. Thus, this refers to the data-driven networking of the cars with each other as well as the exchange of data between cars and traffic systems in the surrounding area. Radar sensors and cameras mounted in the cars and on the road measure traffic density, speed, distance to other traffic participants and other motion data which are crucial for the functioning of autonomous systems. This data is openly provided by cloud computing so that companies can test and continue to develop their technology in real operations.

A black box clarifies the liability issues

The deadly accident of a Tesla driver in the United States in the last year threatened to burst the technology bubble of self-driving cars. Even if it has been established in the meantime that no errors in the system have caused the accident to happen, a heated discussion is centered mainly around politics concerning issues of liability. In January 2017, the German Federal government has defined regulations for autonomous driving for the first time. This law states the equality of human drivers and computers and therefore paves the way for highly automated driving. Accordingly, the human driver is still to sit at the steering wheel of a self-driving car, however, the hands can be taken off the wheel, for instance, to surf the internet or answer emails. In case of system alerts, the driver must be able to resume control over the vehicle at any time. A black box in the car that records the processes, should clarify the question of liability in case of damage. If the system is responsible for an accident, the car manufacturer shall be liable.

Self-driving trucks are on the rise

In controlled environments, self-driving vehicles are already in use in a number of industries, such as in agriculture and in port operations. Transport logistics, however, should benefit most from the technology in the next few years. Already in 2014, Daimler has unveiled the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 at the commercial vehicle show, the IAA, which already successfully drove a test track on the A14 near Magdeburg in autopilot. Uber, who meanwhile also entered into the truck business, staged the first commercial delivery by a self-propelled truck effectively in the USA in October of last year. With the driver in the sleeping cabin, the truck drove almost 200km through Colorado, in order to bring a beer delivery autonomously to its target destination. The transport industry expects not only tremendous cost savings by the new technology but also maximum efficiency in the logistics industry. Transport networks can be connected to each other and optimally utilized. Especially convoys in which the trucks are technically connected to each other and simultaneously react to the transport conditions, can regulate the volume of traffic efficiently and, above all, save fuel costs. Furthermore, drivers are able to better comply with their rest periods, as the truck autonomously continues to drive.

Until fully automated vehicles will be on our roads, however, we still must overcome some hurdles. These are both of technical, legal and also social nature. Even the general publics’ reservations concerning completely driverless vehicles must first be taken into account until these can be integrated into the normal street scene. We at sennder keep track of the logistics trends of the future, so perhaps, you will soon also be able to book an autonomous truck for your deliveries, live on sennder.com.