By Tess Bennett
Connected Trucks

Self-Driving Trucking Heralds The Greatest Change To The Industry Since Bullock Drays

As self-driving trucks hit the highways for trials in Europe and North America, technology has already changed life on the job for Australian truckies.

Cam Dumesny, executive officer of the Western Australian Road Transport Association, shared his personal opinions on the future of the trucking industry in Australia with Which-50.

“The transport industry is entering the greatest period of structural and technological change since we moved from bullock drays to motorised transport. How long the period of change will last is indeterminant — it may be decade, in the earliest case, or several decades. At this stage it simply unknown.”

Dumesny said heavy vehicle manufacturing is approaching the point where it is moving from Level 3 (technology assisting the driver) to Level 4 (the driver assisting the technology). Full automation — driverless vehicles — are classified as Level 5.

“Already early-stage technology such as in-cab video to monitor drivers has created resistance.”

This fundamental change to the vehicle alters the nature of the job, and may lead to a different set of attributes or skills being sought in drivers.

“Transport drivers, especially long haul, have traditionally been people who love the freedom of being out of the boss’s eye — inherently, people who like the sense of the ‘freedom of the road’.

“Already, early-stage technology such as in-cab video to monitor drivers has created resistance. As the level of connectivity increases, the perception of freedom many drivers have previously felt may lead to a change in the nature of people who enter the industry.”

A current challenge for the industry is understanding that technology is not a threat, Dumesny argues. But the language used to talk about the changes isn’t helping.

“The terminology used in the technology can create a barrier to the industry’s acceptance or adoption. In WA, in conjunction with the WA Chief Scientist and the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative, we are going to conduct the first platooning trial in WA,” Dumesny explained.

“The reaction of the industry in some quarters was one of absolute rejection. However, when you explain that platooning is simply what our drivers have always done to save fuel — by driving up the clacker of the truck in front, just safer by enabling the vehicles to connect via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, hence enabling safer yet closer traveling of vehicles — they accept it.”

Truckloads of data

Transport vehicles are increasingly becoming Internet- or, more specifically, mobile-data-connected. Some large transport companies have control rooms that show the location and transit status of every vehicle in their fleet using mobile network GPS tracking of vehicles.

Network technologies also give companies greater visibility and control over what happens on the road.

“A number of transport companies have implemented geo-fence technology for safety or compliance. An example is a transport company in Broken Hill that has set the speed limit at a particular corner to 25km per hour, after an incident on a corner. If the driver exceeds that set speed limit an auto alert email is sent,” Dumesny explained.

Truck cabs will also include built-in biometric monitoring, to read the driver’s health.

“A technology is emerging which includes in-built biometric (ECG) monitoring in the seat, with in-cab and back to base alarms if a concern arises. It should be noted that the average age of a long-haul transport driver is north of 50 years old,” Dumesny said.

The data generated by connected trucks will prove valuable to governments and transport planners.

“Governments and transport planners will increasingly seek access to individual transport data sources in order to aggregate big data freight planning,” Dumesny said.

“The actual knowledge of freight movements is still largely limited to vehicle counters. As cities become more congested, with an increased drive to provide the support & the 24-by-7 lifestyle residents seek, the need for more detailed transport planning data will be required.”