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Opinion: There’ll be driverless trucks on highways when general population accepts driverless cars

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Opinion: there’ll be driverless trucks on highways when general population accepts driverless cars
Don Ake says the final push for self-driving cars may come from insurance companies. "If you drive your car, your rates are $10,000 a year, but they fall to $1,000 if the car drives itself," he says

By Don Ake

Vice President, Commercial Vehicles

FTR Transportation Intelligence

The question I get asked the most by people inside, and outside, the industry is: When will there be driverless trucks on the highways?

This, of course, is a difficult question because it not only involves adaptation to technology, but a host of other complicated factors as well.

But my answer is this: You will see driverless trucks as soon as the general population accepts driverless cars. When people are comfortable riding in a driverless car, then they will not object to a fully-loaded, driverless tractor-trailer behind them on the highway.

I realize this is not a specific answer but providing an exact year at this point amounts to SWAG. It is difficult to calculate an adoption rate curve because, in addition to economics, there are cultural, political and other issues to resolve.

I believe most people are currently fearful of self-driving cars. This fear will, of course, be reduced by all the “self-adjusting/correcting” options (braking, parking, lane-assist, speed-adjust, etc.) available on newer vehicles.

In addition, there will be public service campaigns trumpeting the increase in safety provided by self-driving cars. Reduction in accidents, deaths, and drunk drivers will be the main benefits. Improved traffic flow is also an expected plus.

And traffic safety is of growing importance as millions of baby-boomers with diminishing skills share the road with the texting Millennials. Throw in increased marijuana legalization, and we all may end up demanding self-driving cars.

Personally, I know I will be extremely distressed the first time I am in a driverless car. I have never even used cruise control, because I must always be in total control of my vehicle. However, I do look forward to the day when I summon a car to take me to my doctor’s office. A robot will load me in the vehicle and another robot will lift me out. If I can adapt to this, I think other’s in my generation will also.

But the final push for self-driving cars may come from insurance companies. If you drive your car, your rates are $10,000 a year, but they fall to $1,000 if the car drives itself. “This is America, so it is your choice. We are not telling you what to do, but…”

Why is public opinion so important? Because Congress is not going to approve the use of driverless trucks if people are fearful. It may take years to even write the regulations.

Of course, if one political party writes them, they will be too lax, and if it is the other party, they will be too tight.

But there will be extensive debates and lobbyists promoting various interests, etc.

You can argue that the financial incentive for driverless trucks is so significant it will overrun all the obstructions and objections: “It is so obvious that they have to pass it!”

Yes, and the government is working so well, [as this is being written] it is currently shut down. And I will refer you back to the history of legislation on freight weight and trailer size.

“When is that 33-foot trailer legislation going to pass?”

Now, you can also argue that the truck will always need a “driver,” but that is based on today’s technology and logistics framework.

Twenty years from now technological improvements in automation, robotics, and logistics adaptation may change everything.

Maybe then you will just need an “attendant” to ride in the vehicle for emergencies. This could even spark a new form of ride sharing. “Ride in the truck for free from Kansas City to Memphis and call us if anything goes wrong.”

I do agree with those who say “platooning” will come first.

This involves two or more trucks connected by automated driving technology traveling down the highway in a line, separated by a close, set distance from each other. Successful platooning will also help people to accept the self-driving truck concept.

However, this still will need to be legislated, with regulations, etc. And that’s why it is difficult to put a timetable on it.

If you forced me to place a bet, maybe 2027. But driverless trucks will remain a hot topic of discussion until it ultimately happens.

As I said, it is the topic I am asked about the most. I was actually giving my opinion on the subject to an anesthesiologist as he waited for me to go under before a recent medical procedure. So, it has to be an important subject because if something went disastrously wrong, those would have been my final words!

Don Ake is vice president of commercial vehicles at FTR and is responsible for forecasting Class 8 truck and trailer demand.

 

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Kenworth to collaborate with Meritor on T680E Electric powertrain development

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concept photo of Kenworth electric model
The electric Kenworth T680E will be a short-hood day cab in tractor configurations of 4x2 and 6x4 axles and as a 6x4 axle straight truck. The T680E will offer an operating range between 100 to 150 miles, depending on application. (Courtesy: Kenworth)

KIRKLAND, Wash. — Kenworth has announced it will collaborate with Meritor on electric powertrain development for Class 8 Kenworth T680E battery-electric vehicles.

The electric Kenworth T680E will be a short-hood day cab in tractor configurations of 4×2 and 6×4 axles and as a 6×4 axle straight truck. The T680E will offer an operating range between 100 to 150 miles, depending on application.

“The Kenworth T680E development in collaboration with Meritor is a major advanced technology step in Kenworth’s evolution of zero-emission electric powertrain solutions for our customers,” said Kevin Baney, Kenworth general manager and PACCAR vice president. “Initial production of the Kenworth T680E is expected to begin in the fourth quarter 2020 and ramp through 2021.”

Meritor, Inc. is a global supplier of drivetrain, mobility, braking and aftermarket solutions for commercial vehicle and industrial markets. Meritor is based in Troy, Michigan.

“We look forward to working closely with Kenworth to help develop the Kenworth T680E as an important, viable battery-electric answer for the day cab market,” said T.J. Reed, vice president of Global Electrification for Meritor.

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New Kenworth parts, service locations now open in Maryland and Nebraska

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Kenworth service location in Maryland
West Point Kenworth is approximately one hour south of Sioux City, Iowa, and located along Highway 275, a major trucking route in the area. (Courtesy: Kenworth)

WESTMINSTER, Md. And West Point, Neb. — Kenworth now offers additional locations for parts and services. Mid Atlantic Kenworth has added a full-service location in Westminster, Maryland, while Sioux Falls Kenworth has opened a new parts and services dealership in West Point, Nebraska.

Maryland

In Westminster, Maryland, the 17,400-square-foot facility features a full parts and service department, with 10 service bays to maximize customer uptime for truck operators passing through the area. A drivers’ lounge is available to customers while their trucks are serviced.

The facility, Kenworth Mid Atlantic Westminster is located on three acres, which offers customers ample room to park their trucks.

The Westminster, Maryland facility is located at 821 Baltimore Blvd. and its hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Nebraska

With its new parts and service dealership in West Point, Nebraska, Sioux Falls Kenworth can now offer expanded support to fleets and operators in the greater Sioux City, Iowa area.

West Point Kenworth is approximately one hour south of Sioux City and located along Highway 275. The 12,800-square-foot building is situated on 3.5 acres. The facility features an 8,600-square-foot service department with eight service bays. Also included is a 1,200-square-foot parts retail display area and a 1,900-square-foot space for bulk storage.

The West Point facility is located at 1805 Sycamore St. in West Point. Hours of operation are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday.

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Agility partners with XStream Trucking to distribute aerodynamic TruckWings

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a patented design allows truckwings to swing out and retract
The patented TruckWings design incorporates folding panels made of impact-resistant, glass-reinforced composites attached to the rear sides and roof of the cab that automatically swing out to close the cab-to-trailer gap at highway speeds and retract at lower speeds. (Courtesy: Agility Fuel Solutions)

COSTA MESA, Cali. — Agility Fuel Solutions and XStream Trucking have announced that Agility will be the exclusive distributor of Xstream’s TruckWings aerodynamic systems for compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks in North America. Agility will also distribute TruckWings on a non-exclusive basis to the diesel truck market.

The patented TruckWings design incorporates folding panels made of impact-resistant, glass-reinforced composites attached to the rear sides and roof of the cab that automatically swing out to close the cab-to-trailer gap at highway speeds and retract against the rear of the cab at lower speeds to leave room for turning maneuvers.

“TruckWings is the first device which completely solves the turbulence problem created by the open area between the tractor and trailer that contributes significantly to a truck’s overall aerodynamic drag,” said Daniel Burrows, XStream Trucking’s founder and CEO. “We are pleased to now partner with Agility to offer TruckWings as a factory option for CNG trucks in North America.”

Agility, a business area of Hexagon Composites ASA, and XStream Trucking have previously partnered to provide TruckWings systems for over 750 CNG trucks used by major fleet operators. Agility’s leadership in providing clean fuel solutions for commercial vehicles coupled with its extensive customer base and value-added aftermarket services will expand XStream’s TruckWings solution to reach the growing CNG truck market throughout North America.

“Agility’s trucking fleet customers are focused on fuel cost savings and on increasing the fuel economy of their CNG trucks. TruckWings are a great answer to this problem, as we’ve demonstrated in real-world use with some of our major fleet customers,” said Eric Bippus, Agility’s senior vice president of global sales and marketing. “We are very pleased to enter into this distribution agreement and to continue to work with XStream Trucking to deliver clean and efficient transportation solutions for the North American trucking market.”

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