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The Herman Trend Alert: Self-Driving Trucks Are Here (Pt. 2)

Recently, we covered Part 1 of the topic of self-driving big rigs, including talking about the Daimler Freightliner Inspiration already being tested in Nevada and how Tesla is competing. This Herman Trend Alert is the second of two parts, talking about this vital topic.

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Herman Trend Alerts are written by Joyce Gioia, a strategic business futurist, Certified Management Consultant, author, and professional speaker. Archived editions are posted at http://www.hermangroup.com/archive.html

Recently, we covered Part 1 of the topic of self-driving big rigs, including talking about the Daimler Freightliner Inspiration already being tested in Nevada and how Tesla is competing. This Herman Trend Alert is the second of two parts, talking about this vital topic. You can read part one here.

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Driver shortages persist for now

According to a recent release by the American Trucking Associations, the driver shortfall could reach 50,000 positions by the end of 2017, and if the trend continues, by 2026 the shortage will grow to more than 174,000. However, with self-driving trucks and the possibility of pelotons, fewer drivers will be needed in the future. Plus, the job will be much less physically demanding.

Safety is a consideration, too

Can a 40-ton self-driving 18-wheeler really be safe? When you consider that close to 90 percent of truck accidents were caused by human error and computers are not human, the answer is “Yes.” Though no system is foolproof, the largest freight carriers have already started to equip their trucks with active safety features like lane control and automatic braking.

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Tesla is the recent winner

While Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration is still very much a test truck, just last week Walmart pre-ordered 15 Tesla self-driving electric trucks (10 for its Canadian operations and five for its U.S. operations). Walmart believes it can learn how this technology performs within their supply chain, as well as how it could help them meet some of their long-term sustainability goals, like lowering emissions. Moreover, J. B Hunt Transport Services Inc. also has placed orders for the new Tesla truck.

Remarkable opportunity

Though we are millions of test miles away from self-driving trucks from Daimler, Tesla or others being in wide use, the advantages are obvious – reducing the shortage of drivers, saving money on fuel, lowering emissions and even reducing the number of accidents. Our forecast is that by 2025, we will see many semi-autonomous trucks on long-haul routes. The future is arriving very quickly.

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CORRECTION: Unfortunately, we believed (and reported) that Daimler and Peloton were collaborating. That was not true. Each of the companies had its own project. Both companies were exploring platooning to save fuel by forming an improved aerodynamic profile. We also learned some fascinating additional information: As a result of controlling the truck systems together, companies will realize major savings due to “drafting.” Drafting happens when two (or more) vehicles run very close to each other and the fuel savings are substantial. The front vehicle saves 5 percent. The back vehicle saves 10 percent. Finally, in a three-truck caravan, the middle truck actually realizes an impressive 15 percent fuel savings. In addition, using aerodynamic technologies, trucking companies can earn United States EPA credits for platooning.

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