The Future of Driverless Haulage

J Wood Lorry


One interesting feature making news headlines at the moment is autonomous (driver-less vehicles). Vehicle manufacturers, determined to ‘drive’ forward the vehicle industry, are becoming increasingly competitive in meeting the challenge of bringing the next generation of vehicle to the market. Autonomous Vehicles now feature as part of Highways England’s Innovation Strategy 2016, which demonstrates the Government’s investment into the future of technology on our highways, which will almost certainly affect road haulage, Cheshire in the near future.

Big companies, including Google are investing in driver-less programmes such as The Self Driving Car Project all the way back in 2009. Since, Google has made considerable advances in their research and now have a fleet of prototype testing vehicles out on the streets of America, clocking up over 1.5 million miles already.

For the haulage industry, Hitachi Construction Machinery Co., Ltd is to develop an Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) that is scheduled to be delivered to the global mining industry by 2017. Such machinery fitted with an autonomous technology will be expected to carry out site based tasks, in line with map data, speed limits, routes and job tasks.

According to ‘The Future of Driver-less Haulage’, a report by AXA (Sep 2015), there are many reasons why haulage will benefit from driver-less technology. AXA highlights massive savings the industry would save in Labour, fuel consumption, insurance and vehicle utilisation. You could be forgiven for thinking that labour savings would be made through redundancy but this is unlikely. AXA notes how there are already concerns that drivers are set to retire at a faster pace than they can be replaced.

Hitachi Construction Machinery Co., Ltd notes how improved safety will be a big factor in pushing technology forward. The addition of smart sensor technology will reduce human error, looking to make autonomous vehicles a much safer mode of transport.

Operational efficiency is expected to improve from the use of collected data from the on-board sensors, as well as the dynamic path generation logics embedded into the system. With this, the vehicles perform tasks as efficiently as an experienced operator within centimetre accuracy. Flexibility will come from operation at any necessary time, perhaps outside of normal working hours. The demand for loading/unloading skills will be lowered and improved efficiency will give more haulage opportunity for other clients.
Despite the launch of these systems scheduled to be as early as next year, the autonomous technology still has a long way to go before they can be formally introduced to the market. Rigorous testing and safety controls will need to take place by quality control officials. At the end of it all a key player in the progress of the technology is safety, and without autonomous automotive being safer than manual driving, there will be no use for it.