While trucking technology including new safety features, platooning tools and autonomous driving are moving forward rapidly, weather, traffic and other hurdles still present significant adoption challenges.
That’s the assessment of Fred Andersky, director of government and industry affairs at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, who outlined his views of trucking technology during an industry conference call hosted by Stifel Financial Corp. Thursday.
“There are challenges to automated vehicles – things like weather,” Andersky said. “If it starts snowing and the lines on the road start to disappear, that makes it hard for the cameras to see.”
Cameras have trouble distinguishing between minor issues such as puddles and major hazards such as sink holes, Andersky said. Oil spots also can confuse sensor providing data to self-driving systems on trucks.
The advancements in autonomous technology “are impressive,” Andersky said. But these hurdles mean it will be some time before there are fully self-driving trucks on U.S. roadways.
Until the technology is perfected, trucks will still need drivers at the wheel, he said.
However, truck platooning technology, a driving strategy featuring digitally tethered trucks traveling in single file to reduce drag, is moving forward and will be tested by fleets this year, Andersky said.
Platooning is like a slower, larger version of drafting or slipstreaming in auto racing.
“I think there has been a lot of excitement behind the idea of platooning,” he said. “A lot of these trials are going to be tied to improving fuel economy and a level of safety benefits.”
Platooning technology could be launched in commercial trucks late next year, depending on the outcome of the fleet trials, Andersky said.
Andersky also is watching Tesla Inc., the electric car company. Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, said the automaker will would debut an electric semi-truck in September.
“I am really curious to see if it delivers the performance, but most importantly the return on investment that a fleet is going to look for in order to move to that technology,” Andersky said. “Fleets are in business to make money – they are looking for an 18 to 24-month payback on technology. I will be curious to see how that plays out.”
Bendix has played a large role in the advancement of autonomous technology in the trucking and commercial bus industry. Bendix is one of two major producers of active safety equipment in North America, along with Meritor Wabco.
Bendix autonomous safety technology, such as collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking, is now offered on several models of Kenworth, Peterbilt and Navistar’s International trucks.
The Wingman Advanced, Bendix’s collision mitigation technology, using radar, became the company’s “first true autonomous braking system” because if a collision was imminent, the system would alert the driver and apply the brakes if necessary to help the driver mitigate a collision.
In 2015, Bendix launched its Wingman Fusion, which combines both radar and camera technology. Andersky called the Wingman Fusion system from Bendix – it combines radar and camera technology – “the foundation” for the company’s autonomous technology.
“What you are really looking at is the idea of more information coming into the system to enable more types of interventions,” he said.