The transportation industry isn’t going anywhere, but it’s certainly evolving rapidly. The face of the industry today is vastly different than it was a decade ago. Similarly, the industry will continue to evolve over the next few decades, forever changing the future of trucking. What exciting changes and new advances can we expect? And how will these changes impact commercial carriers and their drivers? Read on to learn more.
Cutting Edge Technology Today
Changes have already started to emerge in the industry. Fleet managers and their drivers are learning to adapt to wireless communications systems and electronic logging devices. They’re beginning to test new fuels and propulsion systems. What’s more, they’re adjusting to fast-acting electronic control modules. Amidst the technological advancements, they continue to look out for new regulations and changes to size and weight restrictions.
What Technology is on the Horizon?
The trucking industry today is on the verge of a period of unparalleled change. New technologies – ranging from self-diagnosing and autonomous vehicles to smartphones that assess driver health – are set to emerge on the scene.
Talk of autonomous cars instills fear in many members of the trucking workforce today. How will advanced technology impact their job stability? Will they be replaced by robots?
The good news is that even fully autonomous trucks don’t eliminate human drivers from the equation. Even if a truck can effectively navigate itself, there’s still a need for drivers to take inventory, sign forms and complete countless other non-repetitive tasks that robots simply can’t complete.
As vehicles become more and more automated and simply don’t need full-time operators, the function of long-haul drivers will transition to that of an in-cab systems manager, similar to an airplane pilot. Automated vehicles will be able to change speeds, steer and break. Eventually they may even be able to exit highways or change lanes. Free of these tasks, drivers will be responsible for more advanced technical jobs, such as overseeing diagnostics systems and choosing optimal routes. They’ll also have to communicate to form platoons on the highway, as well as handle certain load-finding and dispatch tasks. There will be countless autonomous smart systems and telematics that need to be monitored. And of course, should anything malfunction or otherwise go wrong, drivers will need to take over.
Don’t worry; for the time being, it’ll be drivers behind the wheel.
Platooning occurs when tractor-trailers are connected wirelessly as a convoy in order to coordinate their operations as they travel down the road. It’s the first step in the automation of trucks. Why move in this direction? Platooning allows fleets to “put trucks much closer together while still increasing safety because we have an automatic reaction to events by the rear truck,” according to Founder and CEO of Peloton Technology, Josh Switkes, a pioneer of platooning efforts. Platooning increases drivers’ ability to avoid collisions, driver more safely and improve fuel efficiencies in two-truck platoons.
Greater connectivity, greater risk
In the past, talking to a truck’s controller area network – or CAN bus – went one way. Fleets could access information to review, but they couldn’t directly communicate with the CAN bus. That meant that they couldn’t remotely perform functions like shutting down the engine or lucking the doors. In the future, fleets will be able to do much more than simply connect to their fleet’s data. The connectivity will be greater than ever, allowing for remote updates for system and components, including onboard navigation systems to transmission. Just think – fleet managers could update truck engines in real time to have the appropriate specs and horsepower based on their location. Unfortunately, greater connectivity will expose fleets to security risks such as the possibility of a skilled hacker gaining control over the functions of a vehicle carrying expensive cargo. To respond to this threat, the industry will have to invest in anti-jamming and anti-spoofing technologies.
The Future of Fuel
As the availability of resources changes and environmental concerns heighten, the question arises: What energy source will fuel trucks in the future? Although new power sources will inevitably become available, the truth is, we may never find a fuel as well suited to long haul drives as diesel. We may, but we may not. For the next few decades, natural gas may be introduced, but diesel will remain the primary fuel source. However, the make-up of the diesel fuel may change. For example, it may come for more bio sources rather than from petroleum. We’re already seeing a trend toward electric vehicles shaping truck design. The more autonomous vehicles become, propulsion systems will be easier to control if they too are electric. Hybrid electric systems allow for greater control. Back to the topic of fuel, while the gasoline industry won’t disappear, it will decline as non-fossil fuel power sources gain traction.
Change is exciting. The technological advances being made in the commercial trucking industry are meant to increase safety, efficiency, productivity and more. But when change happens at rapid-fire speed, it can be hard to keep up and adjust. Drivers need to keep their skills and knowledge up to date if they want to remain in demand as the industry evolves. That’s why it’s important to stay educated about new advances as they’re unleashed and work to develop the skills necessary to be prepared for their integration.
Our curriculum at CHET includes the basics of how the driver should interpret the diagnostics provided by the truck. From understanding how the gauges work to show impending problems and alerts to low oil pressure, low air pressure, and coolant temperatures and what the driver should do to counteract these problems, to the more in-depth telematics which involve the ECU. The school brings knowledge to the forefront for how the driver can best monitor the complex systems that run under his control in the piloting of his tractor-trailer combination.
CHET is currently in the process of putting into place a remote training program that drivers can tap into out on the road so that there is more information regarding the available inputs that each driver can see within their cab. This can elevate the performance of each driver in running his unit the most effectively for fuel and maintenance, saving him downtime and repairs, while ultimately earning more money.