Follow us on Twitter!
Blog Header Logo
DG&A's Transportation Consulting Blog
Posted by on in Automation
  • Font size: Larger Smaller
  • Hits: 201
  • Print

Autonomous Trucks – Part 2 – The Technologies and the Players


In last week’s blog, I outlined the market forces driving the launch of autonomous trucks; this blog will focus on the emerging technologies and companies that are shaping this big change in trucking. They include:

• Retrofit Kits for Existing Fleets

• Autonomous Trucks

• Automated Last Mile Delivery Services

• Platooning and Guided Highways

It should be noted that autonomous does not necessarily mean “driverless.” There’s a difference between eliminating human error and removing humans from truck cabs. The technologies outlined below may not displace the truck driver in all situations. However, they do change the discussion around hours of service and the role the driver plays in operating the vehicle. With that in mind, here is an overview of these technologies.

Retrofit Kits for Existing Fleets

Otto, a U.S. start-up owned by Uber, that has ex-Google, Apple and Tesla employees working for it, has developed a kit that can equip existing trucks on the road. "We are developing a suite of sensors, software and truck enhancements coming together in a product that can be quickly outfitted on existing trucks," Otto co-founders Anthony Levandowski and Lior Ron, wrote in a blog post. Otto said that it is testing the technology on highways and it recently completed an autonomous demo on a public highway.


Otto envisions drivers that can put their trucks in "cruising" mode, as they call it, and technically go off duty, getting some sleep in the berth behind the driver's seat; the truck could drive itself for hours—with the driver still collecting the usual rate per mile. But for now, drivers are still needed — not only to oversee the driving, but for all the things that happen either side of onramps and off-ramps, like the city driving and logistics, the docking and parking and weighing and so forth. These trucks would be automated but not “driverless.” Uber plans to develop an app, similar to their taxi app, to facilitate the communication between companies with capacity and shippers with freight to move.

Autonomous Trucks

Semi-automated Self Driving Trucks (“saSDTs”) are those capable of automated driving under supervision and under limited circumstances like driving long distances on an interstate. Fully automated Self Driving Trucks (“faSDTs”) are those that can leave the truck terminal and travel to a destination without human intervention or presence in the truck cab. While some manufacturers may start with semi-automated vehicles, it is likely that all truck manufacturers will try to move as quickly as they can towards saSDTs/faSDTs. There are a host of companies testing technologies in this space. They include Daimler, Volvo, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Google’s Waymo division.

Embark, a startup based in San Mateo, California, recently featured in Transport Topics, is working to build self-driving technology that would allow trucks to run on highways with no human input. CEO and co-founder Alex Rodrigues said Embark’s goal is not simply to assist drivers, but to enable completely unmanned trucks to travel on highways, from exit to exit, while continuing to rely on humans for city driving.


Embark’s system uses onboard radar, cameras and lidar sensors in conjunction with military-grade GPS to monitor the truck’s environment and track its position. Self-driving software processes that information using a form of artificial intelligence that allows the truck to learn from its own experience, the company said. Embark’s vision for driverless trucks differs from the technology concepts espoused by truck manufacturers, which have been demonstrating driver-assist technologies that help rather than replace the human operator.

Automated Last Mile Delivery Services

Some companies are looking at incorporating last-mile solutions into the automated shipping industry by literally bringing items to your door: Google just patented a concept for a driverless truck that delivers items to your door, and a company called Starship developed a scooter-sized delivery bot, theoretically deployed from a smart truck, that rides down the sidewalk to deliver your packages.


Platooning and Guided Highways

One approach being examined is “platooning” that would enable a number of trucks to travel along a highway together, all controlled by the first vehicle. It requires development of a new technology called “lane-keeping” that is under development. The challenge at this point comes when the lead truck needs to change lanes on the highway. The trucks following behind must then have drivers fully engaged to perform the lane change. Silicon Valley firm Peloton Technologies has developed advanced platooning software, which lets trucks “link” up in lines while on the highway.


Today, almost all commercial cargo moving less than 500 miles is transported by truck. Cargo trucks share public roads with private vehicles. The volume of cargo traffic and private vehicle traffic in many areas has grown faster than the public road infrastructure. Truck traffic over congested public roads contributes to major economic challenges for businesses and cost to the taxpayer.

The Freight Shuttle System (FSS) concept was initiated at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute for the purposes of finding a low-emissions alternative to moving freight and relieving congestion created by trucks in heavy freight corridors. FSS moves truck trailers up to 53 ft., domestic intermodal containers up to 53 ft., and all sizes of ocean shipping containers via emissions-free, electric-powered transporters on elevated guideways in the medians of highways or other rights-of-way over distances of up to 500 miles. It has been designed to integrate into today’s intermodal network. The Freight Shuttle System is currently focusing on high volume locations, such as the I-35 corridor in Texas. They are working on cross-border projects in El Paso and Laredo. These shuttles can be operated 24/7 without drivers.


Clearly autonomous trucks is a very “hot” area with great potential for saving truckers billions of dollars in operating expenses in the years ahead as these technologies gain adoption.  As we can see, there are a number of technologies and servcies that are being developed to address these opportunities.

To stay up to date on Best Practices in Freight Management, follow me on Twitter @DanGoodwill, join the Freight Management Best Practices group on LinkedIn and subscribe to Dan's Transportation Newspaper (



  • No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment

Leave your comment

Guest Sunday, 25 June 2017

Most Recent Posts


Tag Cloud

truck driver 2014 freight volumes Training Management Loblaw 3PL EBOR Surety bond small business driver shortages 2013 Economic Forecast freight costs rail safety CN Fire Phone USA Truck Freight Rates business start-up Harper Davos speech Stephen Harper Trade Vision professional drivers Conway dimensional pricing Retail transportation solutions provider Global Transportation Hub Hudsons Bay Company bulk shipping US Election Warehousing driver Freight Shuttle System New York Times Driver Shortage IANA NS Adrian Gonzalez Freight US Housing Market drones Scott Monty CRM US Manufacturing consumer centric LTL shipping coaching Bobby Harris freight agreements freight forwarders $75000 bond Doug Nix 2014 economic forecast Amazon Facebook Dedicated Contract Carriage CITA Shipper Pulse Survey US Auto Sales carrier conference freight RFP FCA Infrastructure Freight Management Dan Goodwill customer engagement shipper-carrier contracts Education capacity shortage Driving for Profit Freight contracts Masters in Logistics Life Lessons Business Strategy Truckload the future of transportation Railway Association of Canada David Tuttle Leadership Search engine optimization Twitter Comey Rotman School of Business Transportation Buying Trends Survey Success RFP Crisis management Freight Carriers Association of Canada UP derailments Canada-U.S. trade agreement YRC Load broker fuel surcharge Training New Hires ShipMax Canada U.S. trade freight cost savings ProMiles network optimization LCV's cheap oil Global experience broker security Politics US Economy automation BlueGrace Logistics shipping wine Transportation service FMS FuelQuest Dedicated Trucking 3PLTL employee termination Packaging pipelines TMP Worldwide JB Hunt autonomous vehicles Transplace Shipper Tracy Matura Business skills Business Transformation Strategy Schneider Logistics energy efficiency Canada's global strategy Cleveland Cavaliers Donald Trump capacity shortages FMCSA hiring process Spanx shipper-carrier roundtable Trump Retail Carriers KCS Distribution freight transportation Blogging Trucking Keystone Pipeline driverless Doug Davis tanker cars Failure President Obama LinkedIn Consulting Sales Management transportation newspaper 2012 Transportation Business Strategies. Jugaad Right Shoring 2015 Economic Forecast 2014 freight forecast Sales Training Climate Change freight transportation in 2011 selling trucking companies Rail transportation news Werner Career Advice Success failure entrepreneur home delibery Finance and Transportation Map-21 University of Tennessee robotics future of freight industry Freight Recession TMS NAFTA Transloading freight payment freight audit Social Media in Transportation Canadian Transportation & Logistics Toronto CP Rail Colilers International freight broker Omni Channel Muhammad Ali Horizontal Supply Chain Collaboration CSX Job satisfaction Software Advice broker bonds CN Rail CSA buying trucking companies routing guide Crude Oil by Rail FCPC dynamic pricing e-commerce Otto Canadian economy marketing Deferred Packaging economic forecasts for 2012 Emergent Strategy Canada Wal-Mart Transport Capital Partners (TCP) Rate per Mile truck drivers TransForce Reshoring Broker economy Microsoft Associates MBA CSA scores APL Freight Capacity Accessorial Charges shipper-carrier collaboration Transcom Fleet Leasing Transportation Entrepreneur BNSF intermodal NMFC Celadon Yield Improvement freight audit trucking company acquisitions Swift 360ideaspace freight bid Canadian freight market freight payment MPG peak season Ferromex Derek Singleton mentoring Inbound Transportation freight rate increases NCC transportation audit Canadian truckers financial management freight transportation conference Regina Social Media

Blog Archives