Re-imagining transportation with autonomous trucks

Sanjay Jalona CEO & MD_  LTI

By Sanjay Jalona, CEO & MD, LTI

In the recent past, Tesla, the American automaker that specializes in electric cars forayed into the truck manufacturing business, with the fully electric, trailer-agnostic, and mid-to-long haul range truck – The “Semi”. Along with the distinctive Tesla Look, the Truck also sports a centrally aligned “Race Car” cockpit and has semi-autonomous capabilities. Being a Tesla product, it will be able to get fully downloadable capabilities, and essentially be a “software-defined” product.

Pitched as the safest, most comfortable truck ever by the CEO, Elon Musk, this new fleet of electric autonomous vehicles will pave the way for trucks to be essentially robots on wheels in the near future with complete control & tractability lying with the fleet owners. Uber’s autonomous trucking arm, Otto that made its maiden voyage in October, delivering 50,000 cans of beer via self-driving vehicle is a very good example of what one can expect in the near future. Even though this has not seen wide-scale adoption yet, various other prototype demonstrations show clear signs of large-scale adoption. And since the logistics & trucking business usually operate in predefined routes with few stoppages except for refueling & driver fatigue, this presents a stronger case for autonomous driving than autonomous personal cars.

As we progress further into the digital domain, this arms race is bound to intensify as existing truck manufacturers like Daimler, Scania and Volvo will come out with their own autonomous transport solution to gain higher market share. Autonomous vehicles will also have a positive impact on road safety as it will significantly reduce the numerous road accidents involving large trucks, tally of which is in hundreds of thousands every year. It will also reduce fuel consumption of the vehicles and benefits of the saved fuel cost will trickle down to the manufacturer and ultimately to the end consumers. As these new inventions revolutionize the transport industry, the truck fleet companies will transform into data companies and function just like the Air Traffic Controllers.

However in the wake of these developments, it has been argued for quite some time now, whether this could spell doom for the people engaged in road transport. On one hand where these advances pave the way for safer roads and are the potential solution to the truck driver shortage, many in the trucking industry are concerned about how self-driving trucks will impact their livelihood. In the U.S. alone there are around 1.8 million Truck drivers which make it one of the largest occupations in the country and while some believe that this will be one of the biggest changes in the jobs market since the invention of the automated loom, some are still positive that it’s way off into the future.

Regardless the way in which Autonomous Vehicles affect the road transport industry, the developments in technology are inevitable and If we look at all these aspects with a comprehensive view, it clearly highlights the need for revamping the digital quotient of the fleet companies to new levels, and also for the road safety authorities to define the new rules of co-existence.

As we infuse the digital into the physical realm, the need for digital security can never be overemphasized. The potential cyber issues associated with increasingly connected vehicles present a grave challenge to the automotive industry. More the control systems and devices connect online, more the vulnerabilities it is exposed to and the impact of cyber attack in such a scenario can have broad ranging effects.Unauthorized use of the freight forwarder’s logistic planning system, misuse of the goods tracking system or a virus attack on the recording applications of radar systems can inflict damage to a company’s profits, reputation, brand and operational effectiveness.

To prevent such an event from happening, Organizations need to take preventive action to mitigate security risks and Cyber Security should have the utmost priority in the organization’s expansion strategy.

As our digital endeavor begins with the promise of technology and the companies develop and modernize, the responsibility of ensuring a holistic end-to-end point of view cannot be overlooked. With the digitalization of the transport systems combined with the challenge of upgrading the existing legacy security framework, companies need to ensure that new architecture is deployed only when it can be fully controlled and protected.

Change is the only constant and as we delve deeper into the world powered by technologies, one hopes the manufacturers, government and the technology companies mutually contribute towards building a resilient architecture for the society, rather than sleep walking into a future.

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