iTECH: Trucking May Save $168 Billion Annually With Driverless Vehicles, Report Concludes
This story appears in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of iTECH, published in the Dec. 16 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
A new “blue paper” by the research department of investment bank Morgan Stanley estimated that autonomous — “self-driving” — vehicles could save the freight transportation in¬dustry $168 billion annually, through pro-ductivity gains and lower costs for labor, fuel and accidents.
Written by Morgan Stanley researcher William Greene, the report on the potential savings of autonomous vehicles for freight transportation is part of a broader study of “Autonomous Cars: Self-Driving the New Auto Industry Paradigm.”
The report stated that “Longhaul freight delivery is one of the most obvious and compelling areas for the application of autonomous and semi-autonomous driving technology,” leading the Morgan Stanley researchers to conclude that the technology “will be adopted far faster in the cargo markets than in passenger markets.”
With an eye on potential savings for freight transportation, Con-way Freight has been participating in a study of connected-vehicles sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation and conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Also, Volvo Trucks played a significant role in a connected-vehicle project in Europe, in which a truck with an active human driver led a convoy of electronically connected automobiles in which a human driver was present but not actively driving.
That configuration, of a human-driven truck leading a convoy of driverless trucks, was referred to in the Morgan Stanley report as “semi-autonomous,” and the report said that longhaul freight transportation on interstate highways could be adopted within 15 years. “By using technology that exists today, truck operators could ‘tether’ rigs together and move in convoy fashion over long distances.” Trucks in the convoy would have to be broken down into human-driven units in urban areas, but still the savings for trucking companies would be significant, the report stated.
Labor savings could amount to $70 billion annually, although drivers employed to operate the autonomous rigs would have to be familiar with the complicated technology and therefore probably paid more than drivers currently are, although there would be fewer of them.
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