Published on December 9th, 2019 | by Danielle0
The Modern Technologies Transforming the Modern Trucking Industry
Modern technology is always moving forward to create buildings, vehicles, weapons of war, household items, and other devices that are more advanced, efficient, and interconnected than ever before. The rise of the Internet is a good example of this, and search engines and social media are at the fore of modern Internet usage. Nearly half of the global population uses the Internet, and around 93% of all online experiences start with a search engine (to help narrow down a vast field of websites and pages).
But it’s more than the World Wide Web; today’s manufacturing sector is stronger than ever, and many new alloys and high-grade metals are making today’s vehicles more fuel-efficient and safer to use than ever. In fact, the American manufacturing sector employs some 12.5 million people, which accounts for 8.5% of the entire American workforce. The trucking industry is benefiting greatly from new technologies, and truck carrier companies and vehicle manufacturers alike are eager to put these advances to use.
Manufacturing and Parts
The manufacturing sector makes everything from I-beams and engines to truck parts and smartphones. This enormous sector contributes $2.17 trillion to the American economy and standing alone, it would be among the world’s largest economies. Recent data says that just over 256,000 manufacturing firms are in operation today, and all but around 4,600 are on the small side (having under 500 employees each). It is believed that for every $1 spent on manufacturing, another $1.40 gets added to the U.S. economy. Even plastics have become a huge factor in crafting the perfect car. Many different metals make all this possible, from cold rolled steel to hot rolled steel (good for I-beams) to aluminum components and tungsten. Many metal alloys are also used, which are composite metals made up of two or more “ingredient” metals to create a new metal with certain desired properties. Steel, nickel, iron, copper, brass, titanium, and others may be involved in making alloys, and some of those alloys are vital in making truck parts. A truck’s engine may get very hot or have extremes of pressure, and only alloys can endure those conditions and remain operational. The exhaust tubes in trucks must be built to endure constant vibrations from the engine without warping or getting cracked. But all of that is basic tech. Some new innovations in the 21st century are truly a glimpse into the future. Let’s explore them.
Self Driving Trucks
Around 1.2 million trucking companies are currently running in the U.S., and some of them are looking into self-driving truck technology. Just 20 years ago, the very idea of a self-driving truck was a fantasy, but no longer. Developers such as Tesla, Nikola, Einride, Volkswagen, and Daimler are all getting involved in this tech, and self-driving trucks may operate in conjunction with a human driver. In the future, these trucks may even drive entirely independent of human drivers. With today’s tech, a truck may receive signals and sense the terrain and road, and warn the driver if they are drifting out of their lane or about to get into a traffic accident. Many smart vehicles today, such as cars, can warn their drivers about upcoming traffic jams, accidents, or damaged roads, so the driver can adjust to those developments well ahead of time. Such assisted driving may reduce the need for repairs and make breakdowns less common, and this can also save lives (both that of the driver and those of nearby motorists).
While we haven’t yet reached complete automation, the dream of such a future might be closer than we think. Automated driving can help elderly folks retain their independence and it might even make drunk driving a thing of the past. New Year’s eve is the number one drinking holiday and countless lives could be saved if party-goers have a reliable ride home.
21st-century semi-trucks are not truly independent of their human drivers just yet; rather, both parties work as a team. For example, these smart trucks have forward-mounted cameras and advance recognition to make the road safer for everyone. The truck driver, when using the smart truck’s input as a reference, can maintain a steady and safe speed and keep a proper distance from other cars, not to mention receive alerts if a car is suddenly behaving strangely. The driver might be looking away, sneezing from a cold, or getting drowsy, but the smart truck will also alert them to sudden traffic changes, so they can respond in time and avoid accidents.
But that is not the only advantage of these smart truck cameras. Those cameras are always rolling, so they act as video evidence of all events that take place during a truck’s trip. So, if an accident does occur, the video will make it clear what exactly happened and show who was at fault and who was not. This can be a boon for truck company insurance rates and legal protection, and the drivers too. Such recordings can also verify precisely when a delivery is made, and show whether the driver acted in a negligent manner. Such cams can help keep truck drivers accountable for their actions. What is more, when enough of these recordings are compiled and analyzed, data analysts can determine patterns of how certain truck models operate, and in what road or weather conditions. Some roads or highways might even be determined to be problematic, and a truck company can adjust its policies or routes to avoid dangerous conditions or inefficient delivery times. While not every car or truck is outfitted with a camera, you can always invest in a dashcam for now. It’s no wonder the dashcam market has grown by 15% over the last six years.
A truck’s operation is also being monitored in real-time, and that is possible due to the proliferation of mobile internet devices. The term “Internet of things” is used to describe this phenomenon, and it can improve the truck delivery business. How? Live updates from a truck’s smart systems will allow geospatial data analysts to track precisely where a truck is and how fast it is going, which makes delivery estimates much more accurate. And if that truck suffers an accident or a delay due to weather or breakdowns, the client will be updated about that, too. With enough data compiled for a specific truck model, particular drivers, or particular routes, managers can determine new shipping routes and schedules to optimize delivery. This can help them avoid areas prone to traffic jams or accidents, for example, or find a route that is noticeably shorter to traverse. Advanced AI can help process all of this data and keep it organized and clean.
What the Humans Do
None of this is to say that human drivers are obsolete or incompetent, however. Despite great advances in self-driving vehicle tech, the road is a tricky place to navigate, and that is especially true in urban areas with a lot of traffic, intersections, pedestrians, and traffic lights. Long stretches of open highways have far fewer obstacles, though, so a human being and an AI can share the duty of driving a semi-truck. On the open highways and roads, the AI may operate the vehicle autonomously, and the driver will be more like a passenger. But when the truck enters an urban area with a lot of traffic and street lights, the driver will take over, and use their expertise to finish the job. Even the most advanced driving AI sometimes makes strange decisions or gets confused when driving in dense traffic or tricky situations, and no trucking company wants its AI-driven vehicles to cause a pileup. So, a human driver will sit in the vehicle to monitor things while the AI drives, and take over if 1) something wildly unexpected happens, or 2) the truck enters an urban area. This tag-team can optimize both efficiency and safety.
On a final note, the trucking industry is delving into another bit of automotive tech: electricity for fuel. Most trucks today run on diesel fuel, but a major effort is being made to switch cars, buses, and trucks to electric motors, or at least hybrid motors (using electricity for slower speeds). To keep these electric trucks running, more and more power stations are being built around the world, where a truck can be plugged in to recharge. How far can today’s trucks go on one charge? One of the newest Tesla trucks, for example, can travel for 800 kilometers on one full charge. Volkswagen’s engineers are looking to make even newer batteries that are more powerful and compact, and able to drive a truck even further on one charge. If this becomes a reality, electricity-only trucks may indeed become quite attractive to many trucking company owners to add to their fleets.