Evolving heavyweights

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Trucks are becoming more connected, safer and more environmental-friendly — features that, the professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) noted in one its reports, repeatedly come up as priorities for truck manufacturers today.

Partiality to each feature varies per region. PwC pointed out that in the Triad — North America, Europe and Japan — connectivity is one key to sales. “Although the Triad markets have buyers willing to pay for new technologies as soon as they go into production, in other regions the market will wait for the financial return to be proven,” the firm said.

PwC predicted that in next few years following the release of its report, in 2014, there would be an increasing convergence of legal requirements on pollutant emissions worldwide. The aforementioned Triad have been stricter with their limits on pollutants since the early aughts, according to the firm, and other regions are following suit.

“This governmental pressure for emissions reduction is having an effect. It has led, for example, to higher emissions transparency, making the tracking of all emissions more feasible over the entire value chain. This is the best approach to minimizing emissions. When the production of emissions while driving is monitored more rigorously, it is easier to engineer solutions for controlling it,” PwC said.

Increasing traffic density is a key stimulus for the growing focus on the safety features of trucks. This phenomenon is particularly salient in metropolitan areas where there has been an increased risk of accident. “New sensors and displays are aimed at helping drivers anticipate hazards,” the firm said. “In the future, the following factors are expected to drive the update of new safety features: ROI and initial cost of procurement, effectiveness of the technology, driver acceptance, interface integration, liability, and regulation.”

Connectivity — a prized feature in developed countries —  will come to more premium trucks. Connected means being “linked to the Internet in hubs that aggregate details from on-truck monitors and allow more sophisticated forms of monitoring and control.” “The connected truck concept contains attractive features for fleet owners and for drivers, because it enables fleet management to be streamlined considerably, with truck data exchanged wirelessly on the move. This enables fleets to optimize logistics, availability, and costs,” PwC explained.

In a more recent report, the firm identified several technologies transforming trucking and logistics. One of which is the vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, a technology that allows trucks to communicate with their surroundings through GPS tracking and the digital links between the trucks and the road or other infrastructure installations. “The goal is to optimize traffic flows, automate routing, improve parking efficiency and safety, and allow drivers to be more efficient,” PwC said.

There is also vehicle-to-vehicle communication. And as the name of the technology suggests, it makes it possible for trucks to communicate with other vehicles on the road, which can potentially decrease fatal collisions. “Intelligent telematics systems linking trucks will share information regarding position, speed, and direction, allowing for automated alerts,” the firm added.

“Ultimately, of course, these technologies, combined with short- and long-distance radar, laser detection, cameras, sensors, and 3D mapping, will eventually lead to the era of self-driving trucks — and completely revolutionize the entire industry.” The question is whether the trucks that drive themselves would gain acceptance around the world. Besides, PwC emphasized, the complete elimination of the driver is still far in the future.

Still, the seemingly inevitable march toward autonomous trucks will not happen overnight but in stages. “Within the next 10 years, drivers may not be needed in long-haul trucks anymore, but will continue to take over trucks entering urban areas, the way local pilots board large ships as they enter a harbor. And drivers will still be needed for local deliveries. It will take another five years or so before all trucking becomes fully autonomous,” PwC said.