Technological advancements have been playing a vital role in the growth of the autonomous truck market – a key sub-segment of the global automotive industry. Increased safety associated with autonomous trucks, along with rising incidences of road accidents, are also key reasons for the growth of the sector. Moreover, the mounting presence of automotive leaders in the industry and their efforts to revolutionize autonomous trucking is further propelling business expansion across key regions worldwide.
From futuristic to reality, self-driving trucks have travelled a long distance but still have some hurdles to overtake. For instance, with widespread speculation surrounding job loss and road safety, public perception needs to change irrefutably in favor of the technology to support self-driving truck market adoption. In addition, autonomous vehicles gather, store, and transmit data on drivers, passengers, vehicles, and even pedestrians. Securing and protecting this information is vital for the growth of the sector. This has created the need for industry-specific cyber security & data privacy regulations to prevent any data-related disruptions.
Subsequently, clearing the liability risks associated with the tech as well as any regulatory barriers have become vital in establishing the autonomous truck industry globally. As per a report by Global Market Insights Inc, the autonomous truck market size is expected to surpass USD 2.5 billion in revenue by 2028. Following are some challenges facing the industry and solutions that market participants are foreseen to implement to tackle them over the forecast period.
Challenges impeding autonomous truck market penetration
Even with numerous benefits offered by self-driving trucks, some issues still persist in the sector. Major factors that are hampering the growth of the global autonomous truck market are given hereunder, as well as ways to combat these concerns.
1. Impact on employment and jobs
One major hindrance in the penetration of self-driving cars and trucks market has been the speculation surrounding the subsequent job loss. Presently, across the varying degrees of automation of autonomous trucks, these self-driving vehicles cannot operate completely driverless.
Solution: These self-driving features in existing trucks can be turned off to let a human driver take control of the vehicle. During this time, drivers still need to be present in the vehicle. Notably, the main motivation for deploying self-driving trucks is that autonomous vehicles would alleviate human error. For this purpose, automated long-haul trucking could be deployed as part of a transfer-hub model, wherein the less-complex highway driving is automated and human drivers take over the vehicle in the more complex urban sections of the path.
Furthermore, truck drivers’ responsibilities extend beyond driving and these non-driving tasks would continue to remain in demand. Since long-haul trucking constitutes a minority of jobs, it would be much simpler to automate than short-haul trucking or last-mile delivery, which makes up for a majority of jobs. Even if the tech is set to transform the current scenario, it does not necessarily indicate the elimination of the need for truck drivers.
2. High capital investment
Autonomous trucks tend to cost substantially more than traditional trucks as they include an array of sensors as well as complex software. Carriers function with tight margins and aim to gain high payback on their investment in a truck in about a year of purchase.
Solution: To raise their return on investment, autonomous truck companies need to be able to meet these payback periods by offsetting higher initial costs against savings from better asset utilization and reduced maintenance and fuel costs.
3. Risks of accidents
Autonomous trucks are programmed to never break the law. However, AV developers also attempt to design their vehicles to be highly efficient to fulfill functions seamlessly. Some studies have indicated that self-driving trucks could struggle to stop two-thirds of crashes, particularly if these vehicles are programmed to prioritize the driver’s preferences over the rules of traffic safety.
Solution: These vehicles would need to not only obey traffic rules but also adjust according to road and weather conditions while implementing driving strategies. Giving importance to safety over driver preferences would be crucial for designers if these vehicles need to live up to their promise of being safer than human-driven vehicles.
What is the future of electric and autonomous vehicles?
With the industry transitioning from prototypes to real-world on-road testing, this shift is still likely to happen gradually and would be highly reliant on commercial truck OEMs, public acceptance, and regulations. Even as fully autonomous trucks are yet to be deployed at scale, there are still many technical and regulatory challenges to overcome in the sector.
For now, both autonomous and semi-autonomous truck fleets need to be highly orchestrated to accomplish the “zero congestion” objective. While fully autonomous trucks are a little way down the road, the future of electric as well as autonomous vehicles where they become a common sight on roads is “closer than they appear”.