20 December 2019
the drivers of the future be human?
Self-driving vehicles and bulk logistics
We’ve discussed the
impact of technology on the bulk logistics sector many times in these articles,
from what’s already possible in terms of digital bulk logistics optimisation, to the next wave of digital advancements on the horizon.
Beyond these industry
developments though, wider-reaching technological progress has the potential to
utterly transform the bulk logistics sector we know today. One of these
innovations is the self-driving (or autonomous) vehicle.
As it stands, testing
of self-driving logistics vehicles has taken place away from public spaces,
with a view to progressing to main roads and motorways once the technology is
ready. Of course, there are vital steps to take first, such as government
regulation and social acceptance, as DHL say in their exploration into self-driving vehicles.
Here we explore two of
the prospective uses of self-driving vehicles within the bulk logistics
industry, and their potential implications.
companies are already making use of platooning – the act of driving in close
convoy so as to boost fuel efficient through air flow that forms between the
vehicles. In its current form, with human drivers behind the wheel of each
vehicle, the close proximity of platooning convoys raises safety concerns, even
with wireless safety systems in place that automatically slow each vehicle if
the one in front brakes.
could take on a new guise through self-driving vehicles; with a human driver
piloting the lead vehicle and setting the pace, while the rest of the convoy
consists of autonomous HGVs. It’s a
technique Scania have already experimented with – in 2016, a lead driver directed a convoy ofself-driving vehicles from Sweden to the Netherlands.
Assisted motorway driving
This is another way in
which self-driving vehicles could find a niche in the bulk logistics industry. According
to the Campaign for Better Transport, a third of fatal motorway accidents
involved at least one HGV in 2016, so could self-driving vehicles help to bring stats like these
While human drivers
would still be required to perform tasks such as merging into traffic, leaving
the motorway and overtaking, an assisted motorway driving system could ensure
an HGV stays in lane automatically, maintains a safe distance from the vehicle
in front and never exceeds legal speed limits. A driver would still need to be
ready to take manual control at all times though, potentially at short notice.
How could self-driving vehicles impact
the bulk logistics sector?
There’s no denying
that self-driving vehicles would completely overhaul bulk logistics as we know
it. It seems unavoidable that autonomous driving would come with driver job
losses, and extensive retraining for those who remain in the profession. Having
said that, the amount of monitoring and assistance the vehicles need will
likely create jobs too. Roadside businesses, such as service stations and
restaurants, would also likely suffer.
On the upside,
self-driving vehicles offer many benefits to bulk logistics firms, not least
significant savings on operational expenses and productivity; an autonomous HGV
doesn’t need to take a break or book time off. There would be a positive boost
to sustainability too, with automated driving resulting in optimal fuel
consumption. Plus, as we mentioned above, self-driving vehicles should be
considerably safer, once the technology is perfected.
Whatever the future
brings, bulk logistics firms should ensure they are capitalising on the immense
value of digitisation and technology right now. At Touchstar, our digital
optimisation systems are tailored specifically for the bulk logistics industry,
designed to support and streamline every aspect of operational performance. To
find out more, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.