“If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.” - Bob Dylan
What happens when you equip everyday trucks with a fast computer, throw a bunch of sensors into every link in the supply chain and digitise every available piece of map and street information? If you connect each of these parts together will you end up with long-distance platoons of auto-piloted vehicles moving goods and services running on a highly intelligent transport infrastructure? Quite possibly. Sounds like something straight out of science fiction? Not according to many road transport operators that we spoke to recently.
Autonomous trucks are not a new phenomenon. BHP Billiton introduced autonomous trucks into its Australian mining operations two years ago. Autonomous trucks were trialled in the USA last year and the UK Government announced plans for similar trials in March this year.
So what do Australian transport operators know and think about autonomous vehicle technology? Well, around equal proportions say they are either reasonably well informed or not very well informed. Those more informed, presumably those who have been keeping up with developments in the mining industry and overseas, are far more likely to believe the implementation of this technology is definitely going to happen or has real potential.
Recognising the potential of the technology, more informed transport businesses are also much more likely to see the upside in terms of cost reduction, increased safety and productivity gains.
The big game changer which is likely to act as an accelerant to the development and deployment of this technology is the Internet Of Things. For the road transport industry, think of this as the Logistics Internet and the way sensors are being used across the supply chain. We already have sensors fitted in warehouse and distribution centres, on smart roads monitoring traffic, on factory floors monitoring production, and in retail stores. In fact there are already some 13 billion sensors deployed across the value chain globally. Forecasts suggest this will increase to a trillion sensors by 2030.
It’s a matter of when, not if this technology will be deployed, so what then are the potential ramifications? Here are some of our initial thoughts.
- Much of the attention thus far has been on the long distance movement of goods. But the biggest gains are likely to come from improving last mile efficiencies. There will be more focus on reducing efficiencies around the final part of delivery.
- We should also not ignore the application of satellite technology at scale. This will enable truck manufacturers to continuously monitor vehicles, diagnose any future faults in advance and remotely update software.
- A highly connected logistics infrastructure will generate terraflops of data per second. Accordingly, there will a huge economic incentive to generate and collect this data from wherever it is available. Expect to see data “land grabs” by organisations and the emergence of an ecosystem for trading data. Anything that is information will be represented in this new data marketplace.
- This future also has major implications for the insurance industry, posing questions about how risk is managed and shared. Liability could shift to software companies who become responsible for payments related to an accident.
- We should not assume the fleet of the future will be powered by fossil fuels. Improvements in battery and hydrogen energy storage make renewable energy more reliable and viable and so accelerate electric vehicle growth and support greater distributed generation.
- What is the future for those people who make a living from driving trucks? Will a truck driver be a redundant occupation? A driverless future makes the recent dispute over pay for contracted drivers look like a storm in a teacup.
Finally, while there is little doubt that the times are changing, a note of caution:
“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.” Bill Gates
As the industry evolves to meet the challenges presented by these changes, ACA Research will continue to conduct research that will uncover emerging trends and provide valuable, actionable insights. To make sure you are the first to receive any new published research reports, please subscribe to our automotive blog by clicking here.
ACA Research conducts studies of the road transport industry at frequent intervals either through our omnibus studies or customised projects for individual clients. If you would like further information about how to keep your finger on the pulse of developments in the automotive industry and ensure your business is prepared for the future please fill out your details below and a member of our team will be in touch.