USPS to trial self-driving trucks

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is set to trial self-driving trucks in Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas for a two-week period.
TuSimple, a self-driving truck company, has announced that the USPS has awarded it a contract to perform five round trips, for a two-week pilot. This trial will haul USPS trailers more than 1,000 miles between the Postal Service’s Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas distribution centres.
The truck will have a safety engineer and driver on board for the duration of the pilot to monitor vehicle performance and to ensure public safety.
TuSimple will run a series of its self-driving trucks for 22 hours each, which includes overnight driving, along the I-10, I-20 and I-30 corridors to make the trip through ArizonaNew Mexico and Texas.
The freight that flows along I-10 corridor accounts for 60 percent of the total economic activity in the United States.
“It is exciting to think that before many people will ride in a robo-taxi, their mail and packages may be carried in a self-driving truck. Performing for the USPS on this pilot in this particular commercial corridor gives us specific use cases to help us validate our system, and expedite the technological development and commercialisation progress,” Dr. Xiaodi Hou, Founder, President and Chief Technology Officer, TuSimple said.

Autonomous trucks: drivers remain, for lower-paid tasks

Image: Most likely automation scenario, absent policy intervention.

University of Pennsylvania sociologist Steve Viscelli has conducted a thorough study into driverless trucks and has just released his final report Driverless? Autonomous Trucks and the Future of the American Trucker.
The study was conducted on behalf of the Centre for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley, and Working Partnerships USA, and questioned whether autonomous trucks will mean the end of the road for truck drivers. His findings are summarised below.
Will autonomous trucks mean the end of the road for truck drivers? The USD 740-billion-a-year US trucking industry is widely expected to be an early adopter of self-driving technology, with numerous tech companies and major truck makers racing to build autonomous trucks. This trend has led to dozens of reports and news articles suggesting that automation could effectively eliminate the truck-driving profession.
By forecasting and assessing multiple scenarios for how self-driving trucks could actually be adopted, this report projects that the real story will be more nuanced but no less concerning.
Autonomous trucks could replace as many as 294,000 long-distance drivers in the US, including some of the best jobs in the industry. Many other freight-moving jobs will be created in their place, perhaps even more than will be lost, but these new jobs will be local driving and last-mile delivery jobs that — absent proactive public policy — will likely be misclassified independent contractors and have lower wages and poor working conditions.
Throughout this transformation, public policy will play a fundamental role in determining whether we have a safe, efficient trucking sector with good jobs or whether automation will exacerbate the problems that already pervade some segments of the industry. Trucking is an extremely competitive sector in which workers often end up absorbing the costs of transitions and inefficiencies. Strong policy leadership is needed to ensure that the benefits of innovation in the industry are shared broadly between technology companies, trucking companies, drivers, and communities.
The findings are based on in-depth industry research and extensive interviews with the full range of stakeholders: computer scientists and engineers, Silicon Valley tech companies, venture capitalists, trucking manufacturers, trucking firms, truck drivers, labour advocates and unions, academic experts, and others.
How many will go – 294,000 or 2.1 million?
Prior studies and news stories have suggested that nearly all of the roughly 2.1 million heavy-duty truck drivers in the United States could lose their jobs to automation. However, that number includes many industry segments that are unlikely to be automated in the near future, such as local pickup and delivery and carriers using specialised equipment. This report finds that the jobs most at risk of displacement are long-distance driving jobs with few specialised tasks, representing about 294,000 drivers.
What is likely to happen?
This study is based on an analysis of six potential scenarios for how self-driving technology could be used in the trucking industry. The scenarios are the result of interviews with engineers, developers, trucking firms, and drivers, along with reviews of industry trade literature.
Human–human platooning. A series of human-driven trucks would be electronically linked, with the lead truck controlling speed and braking in the following truck(s). This approach would let the trucks travel much closer together on the highway, improving aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. Each truck would still have a human driver to maintain the lane and navigate local streets.
Human–drone platooning. Similar to the human–human platoon, except that a single human driver would lead a platoon of autonomous drone trucks on the highway. The human driver would be available to operate the lead truck, manage unexpected situations, or make repairs and ensure safety if a truck broke down mid-route. As in the exit-to-exit scenario below, local drivers would bring loads to an autonomous truck port (ATP) near the highway, where they would swap trailers with the drone trucks for the highway platoon.
Highway automation + drone operation. Human operators would remotely control trucks on local streets and in complicated situations, and then trucks would drive autonomously on the highway. This approach would rely on highly trained dock staff to handle tasks currently performed by drivers, such as inspection and coupling.
Autopilot. Similar to autopilot in airplanes, a human would handle loading and local driving, then sleep in the back of the truck while the computer drove on the highway.
Highway exit-to-exit automation. Human drivers would take care of non-driving tasks and navigate complicated local streets, then swap trailers with self-driving trucks at an ATP next to the highway. The autonomous truck would handle the long-distance freeway driving, then hand off the load at an ATP near the destination.
Facility-to-facility automation. In situations where warehouses and shipping facilities are located near major interstates, autonomous trucks may be able to handle industrial roads (where there are few pedestrians and complex intersections) and drive directly from origin to destination.
Absent significant changes in the policy or economic context, this report concludes that highway exit-to-exit automation is the most likely scenario to be widely adopted in the future. However, human-led platoons represent a model that has fewer technological challenges, a strong economic case, and better jobs for long-distance drivers.
 

Giving way to the wealthy – and will freight fit in?

Autonomous vehicles could see privileged road access for those prepared to pay a premium, said Monash University ethicists Professor Robert Sparrow and Dr Mark Howard.
Online auctions could determine who gets through an intersection first and faster routes reserved for higher-paying customers, Professor Sparrow said.
Autonomous vehicles offer an opportunity to apply free market principles and create a ‘market in mobility’ by pricing road access for more efficient use of an increasingly scarce resource.
But increased efficiency could come at significant social, ethical and political cost, he warned.
An equal place where all users have the same rights and subject to the same laws – no matter what type of car they drive –  could become a place where the wealthy can buy their right of way.
“The logic of the free market, when unleashed on urban transport, points firmly to pricing journey times — and therefore access to space on the roads — in accordance with the ability to pay,” Prof Sparrow said.
“The cars of those who paid lower prices could be made to slow down and move aside in order to allow the cars of those who had paid higher prices to pass them, making the mobility privileges purchased by the wealthy all-too-obvious to the poor.”
In feudal times ‘commoners’ were often expected, or forced by law, to make way for the nobility on roads.
In the future, algorithms will replace expectations of ‘giving way to the wealthy’ with technology determining traffic flows that provide a daily reminder of someone’s place in society.
The prospect of a ‘market in mobility’ would also lead to roads being private, rather than public space, effectively controlled by a small number of companies operating fleets of vehicles.
“It would also result in private corporations controlling access to a good — mobility — that is itself essential to social and political participation, entrenching the divide between rich and poor.
“It’s something governments and policymakers need to carefully consider in their quest for more efficient road networks.”
 

Autonomous and electric: here next year

ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider and Dr Günther Schuh, founder and CEO of e.GO Mobile AG based in Aachen, have announced that series production will begin in Aachen in 2019.
The e.Go Moove GmbH joint venture partners manufacture people and cargo movers primarily for the urban mobility needs of the future. Five-digit volumes are initially scheduled for annual production and ZF is expecting that the demand for these vehicles will reach approximately one million in the next five to seven years.
The company is equipping the e.Go Mover with electric drive systems, steering systems and brakes as well as ZF’s ProAI central computer (using artificial intelligence) and sensors which enable automated driving functions.
“System providers like ZF can significantly benefit from the worldwide trend toward automated driving and electromobility,” said ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider during the ZF Technology Day 2018 in Friedrichshafen in July.
“The e.GO Mover is the first production-ready vehicle featuring ZF systems that provides an autonomous mobility concept for cities.”
ZF is presenting further examples for digitally connected technologies using an autonomous, electrically-powered delivery vehicle for package delivery. With this, the courier neither has to drive nor park – the vehicle can follow them independently from one delivery point to the next with zero emissions.
A benefit for commercial vehicles
At the IAA Commercial Vehicles show in September this year, ZF will show further use cases for its ZF ProAI supercomputer and broad set of related sensor systems that can help to increase efficiency and save costs throughout the entire logistics chain.
ZF’s CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider clearly sees the benefits for commercial vehicles when it comes to introducing autonomous systems.
“Initially, we expect to see automated driving activities more commonplace on company premises and logistics depots, in harbours or in agricultural environments as operations there tend to be more recurrent and the surroundings are not too complex.”
The technology is also expected to prevail in freight logistics and passenger transport because it can reduce operating costs and at the same time help to increase safety for all road users.

Platooning to begin in real-life logistics

DB Schenker, MAN Truck & Bus and Hochschule Fresenius are deploying networked trucks for the first time in a practical application in the logistics industry. On February 13, MAN handed over the test vehicles for the joint platooning project to DB Schenker at its headquarters in Munich. On behalf of the Essen-based logistics group, COO Ewald Kaiser, accepted the keys for the new MAN platooning vehicles from Dr Frederik Zohm, member of the management board for research and development at MAN Truck & Bus AG.
“Autonomous and networked driving will fundamentally change road haulage. This project will focus on testing platooning for the first time in daily logistics operations. So we’re excited that we can now integrate the vehicles into the operational test runs,” Ewald Kaiser said.
“We have already proved that platooning technology works in various predecessor projects, such as the European Truck Platooning Challenge in 2016. Adapting this technology to the real every day conditions of the logistics sector is the challenge we are now tackling,” added Dr. Frederik Zohm from the truck manufacturer’s perspective.
The cooperative venture, established in May 2017, will test truck convoys over a period of several months as part of DB Schenker’s scheduled operations in real traffic scenarios on the A9 freeway between Munich and Nuremberg.
This will also be the first time that professional truck drivers from DB Schenker will replace test drivers at the wheel. Their experiences, assessments and evaluations of platooning are the focal point of the work at Hochschule Fresenius, which is providing the scientific support for the test drives as the third partner of the cooperative venture.
“We want to find out what impact the new technology has on the drivers. The study focuses on the neurophysiological and psychosocial levels,” said Prof. Dr Christian T. Haas, head of the Institute for Complex Health Research at Hochschule Fresenius. “The results of the study at the human-machine interface will be fed back directly into developing the technology.”
The scenario also offers the opportunity to make general findings in terms of digitalising working conditions and would thus serve as a forerunner for other projects.
DB Schenker, MAN Truck & Bus and the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences are bringing networked trucks into practical use in the logistics industry for the first time.
The vehicle handover signals the start of preparations for the road tests. While recent months have been occupied with producing the test vehicles and equipping them with the additional technical components required for deploying platooning, the focus is now on intensive training of the drivers for their tasks in the project and ultimately on facilitating integration with DB Schenker’s logistics operations.
As of April, individual runs of the platoon are planned on the A9. To begin with, the trucks will be operating without any cargo to investigate driving conditions in the daily flow of traffic, and to train the drivers involved in the project in operating the vehicles. The drivers will receive intensive theoretical and practical training from the specialists at MAN ProfiDrive and will practice on a driving simulator. Hochschule Fresenius will be accompanying the drivers and documenting their experiences.
Once the intensive training phase has been completed, there will be weekly, and then daily test runs. These will be extended to include regular operations with actual cargo during the course of 2018. The platoons will then be deployed up to three times daily between DB Schenker logistics centres in Munich and Nuremberg.
Platooning
Platooning is a road vehicle system in which at least two trucks on the freeway can travel in close succession with the help of technical driving assistance and control systems. All of the vehicles in the platoon are linked to each other by an electronic ‘towbar’ that uses car-to-car communication where the truck in front sets the speed and direction.
In this context, electronic coupling of the vehicles in the platoon guarantees traffic safety. One essential objective of platooning is to ensure fuel savings for the entire platoon through slipstreaming.

Let’s have a mature, calm conversation about driverless trucks and drone deliveries

If we are to believe the headlines, then driverless trucks and drones are about to revolutionise delivery transport. But how close are these developments, really?
These developments will likely be academic for years to come. There is more value in looking at what we can do now to improve efficiency with technology and processes which are already available.
Don’t get me wrong – technology will eventually have a huge impact and bring improvements. But we need to bring a healthy scepticism to the big claims currently being made.
Consider an extraordinary recent claim from a Stanford economist predicting petrol vehicles will vanish within eight years – what are we to make of such bold predictions, aside from its click-bait headline? The oil industry is a global behemoth, and internal combustion vehicles currently have a massive edge on power, distance, reliability and price point. Something incredible will need to happen to see all internal combustion engines replaced by electric vehicles with competitive prices and performance in a mere eight years.
Other headlines suggest we soon won’t need drivers at all. I think there needs to be an honest, mature conversation about self-driving vehicles.
The supposed economic gains raise as many questions as answers. We don’t know what the price point for purchasing a self-driving vehicle will be. We don’t know how the regulators will deal with them, don’t know the running costs (though there are claims they will cut down on fuel costs), and don’t know how insurers will view them.
The human factor is the big question. The driver is an expensive part of delivery transport, alongside fuel. If these vehicles require ‘babysitters’ who may be called upon to take control, then they need to be qualified drivers, with the appropriate licences and the appropriate pay levels. If a human is required to be present in a driverless vehicle, how deep will the cost savings be?
The most obvious use for self-driving vehicles is long-haul freight. There have been some fascinating moves, including a self-driving truck delivering Budweiser in the USA. Uber Technologies Inc. and Anheuser-Busch InBev NV collaborated to have an 18-wheeler travel 180 miles with a driver present in the sleeper cab, to make the first commercial delivery using the technology. Volvo also demonstrated a self-driving truck last year, on a short journey in a Swedish underground mine.
Before we get too excited about the self-driving capabilities, Gartner offers an interesting statistic – the IT research house predicts less than one per cent of long-haul freight will be carried by driverless trucks by 2021. This is a long-term game.
While we must monitor these developments, will there be any benefit in being an early adopter? There are many examples in business where it has paid to be conservative, let the early adopters make the early mistakes, and wait until prices come down. These vehicles may require a huge investment and still require somebody on board. We don’t even know what the regulators will do with this technology, though it’s bound to become political.
Safety concerns and potential widespread job losses will fuel much debate and we can expect heavy regulatory involvement.
Transport is statistically one of the most dangerous industries in Australia and worldwide – so we all have to work harder on safety. Self-driving vehicles could potentially make big in-roads into safety, but this seems most plausible on long haul, interstate routes, which are more predictable.
Self-driving vehicles in built-up, metro areas is another thing. Will people, and therefore governments, ever accept driverless semi-trailers or B-doubles in built-up areas?
Early research suggests widespread distrust of self-driving vehicles. A US survey of over 2,000 people found over 75 per cent thought they would never own a self-driving car. Everybody knows how technology can ‘crash’, how it can be hacked and corrupted. Those promoting self-driving vehicles need to persuade the public and the politicians they are safe.
Consider it this way: would you put your child in a self-driving car, on their own, without any other human supervision, for them to be driven to school?
Any incident involving a self-driving vehicle anywhere in the world will be headline news. The potential for PR disaster is huge. Yet we’ve lived with human error for a long time. We may not like it, but we understand it. Will people ever be so understanding of computer error?
Drones are another fascinating development, with Amazon investing in the technology. Drones have huge potential for parcel delivery, but don’t do away with your delivery fleets just yet.
The commercial application of drones faces considerable hurdles around airspace and public safety. Some of these drones weigh 25kg – add payload, and that’s a considerable weight to fly over built-up areas. If drones can achieve air clearance and cover off all safety problems, some serious number crunching will need to ascertain whether several drones controlled by people are more cost-efficient than a driver who may carry dozens of parcels in a van.
In my 30+ years in transport I’ve seen many innovations, which should have made bigger impact on efficiency: mobile communications, telematics, vehicle and parcel monitoring, and insourcing. Yet transport remains a top-five cost of doing business, and a continual source of angst in the supply chain.
Many companies could revolutionise their transport right now. Without any massive investment in technology or personnel, most transport divisions could cut their running costs by 10–15 per cent – just by being smarter in how they use their technology and personnel.
There needs to be more focus on what we’ve got. Properly utilising existing technology would be a huge step forward for many organisations.
Doing so would not just deliver immediate benefits, it provides clear thinking on these breakthrough technologies when they finally do become available – any organisation which clearly understands its costs and efficiencies is bound to make the best decisions on future investments.
Walter Scremin is General Manager of Ontime Delivery Solutions.

Ford reveals self-driving ‘Autolivery’ van concept

Ford has revealed its concept for autonomous parcel delivery – ‘Autolivery’ – at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
“For more than half a century, vans have played a key role in deliveries,” said Ford in a statement. “Drones are a modern phenomenon. But the two could work hand in hand to improve mobility in urban areas in one example of Ford’s vision for the ‘City of Tomorrow’.
“Self-driving vans could quickly and efficiently transport everything from groceries to urgently needed medical supplies on the ground, with drones potentially able to take to the air for the final leg of the journey to reach destinations inaccessible by car, such as high up in a tower block – or where parking would be difficult, impractical, or unsafe.
“The innovative Autolivery concept, developed by a team of Ford employees for the company’s Last Mile Mobility Challenge, imagines electric self-driving vans used together with drones to pick up and drop off goods and packages in urban areas. The concept can be experienced through virtual reality headsets at Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry, in Barcelona, as part of Ford’s vision of the City of Tomorrow.
The concept was developed by Shanghai-based Ford designers Euishik Bang, James Kuo and Chelsia Lau in response to Ford’s calls for urban mobility solutions – the Last Mile Mobility Challenge.
“It’s all about making life in the city easier,” said Bang. “The possibility of harnessing autonomous and electric vehicle technology with drones to quickly and easily send and deliver parcels could help to make life better for everyone.”
News site Post&Parcel has previously reported that by 2021, Ford intends to have a “fully autonomous, SAE level 4–capable vehicle” that can be used for applications such as package delivery fleets.

Apple software engineer joins Tesla autonomous driving project

Electric carmaker Tesla Motors has hired software engineer Chris Lattner to oversee its Autopilot self-driving program.
Autopilot is a hardware and software system already in use in Tesla vehicles. It allows self-driving in some situations, though drivers must keep their hands on the steering wheel.
In mid-2016, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced the company’s intention to look further into autonomous truck technology. In November, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made headlines when he stated his vision of the future of the road transport industry and the role of the truck driver – he predicts that fleets of the future will be autonomous and controlled remotely by fleet managers.
Although Musk conceded that self-driving technology will not become ubiquitous until years after the technology achieves full competence, with the acquisition of Lattner, previously one of Apple’s key software engineers, the company is one step closer to that all-important competence. Until now, the Autopilot system has been guided by Jinnah Hosein, Software Chief of aerospace transport manufacturer SpaceX, but it lacked a full-time leader.
 

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