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How autonomous trucks will transform landscape of logistics industry

08 April 2022

The logistics industry is going through profound changes with digitilisation and other technological advances that have the potential to decrease substantially the cost of transporting goods over land. Although autonomous passenger cars are receiving the most attention, autonomous technology is expected to have a greater impact on the global trucking and logistics industry. Autonomous trucks are gaining a great deal of traction in the transportation industries because of a growing shortage of drivers, improved efficiency, and increased safety.

  • A truck driver shortage is adding to global supply chain challenges, preventing the trucking sector from fulfilling the increased demand driven by a boom in e-commerce. In the US, according to an October 2021 estimate by the American Trucking Associations, the shortage of truck drivers was at an all-time high of 80,000. The shortfall might increase to more than 160,000 drivers by 2030, according to the industry body, due to an ageing workforce and an expected freight increase.
  • Another huge challenge in the logistics industry is underutilisation and inefficient load procurement; hence, these trucks will enable autonomous loading and unloading of containers in yards and ports, resulting in increased efficiency. The low utilisation rates not only reduce the efficiency of operations and distribution for the rest of the supply chain, but also increase the number of trucks on the road, resulting in increased greenhouse gas emissions.
  • One of the most promising aspects of autonomous truck technology is the potential to increase truck safety. Distracted drivers and impaired driving are considered the biggest causes of the increased number of fatalities, which autonomous trucking technology is expected to solve as the systems provide a 360-degree view of the surroundings, process more information, and react faster compared with a human driver.
  • Technology companies have been conducting a variety of autonomous truck pilots and currently these programmes deploy trucks in limited areas where their movement is confined within defined geographies. These pilots are undertaken with the expectation of validating an AV system, starting with line-haul, on-highway applications on simple interstate scenarios and in fair weather conditions. Then, the aim is to expand the pilots to more-challenging driving conditions, aimed at increasing the adoption of automated features in trucks from Level 1 to fully autonomous capabilities (Level 5).
  • As autonomous trucking becomes more popular, consumer perceptions of autonomous technology's safety will have an impact on acceptance and adoption, acting as an accelerator or a deterrent. A strategic plan to accelerate the development and adoption of commercial AVs includes four dimensions: a legal framework, new regulations, appropriate road infrastructure, and collaboration with manufacturers.

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This article was published by S&P Global Mobility and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.

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