With the success of autonomous vehicle technology in recent years, many companies are seeking to create autonomous freight vehicles to improve the logistics of supply chains across the globe. The technology of self-driving, or autonomous, freight trucks is still fairly new and still primarily in the testing phase in most companies. It remains to be seen exactly how autonomous vehicles will fit into, or change, the existing freight systems that already exist. Many models have been proposed with varying levels of technology and driver involvement, a select few will be discussed below.
Driver Assist Model
Currently, driver assist technology is being utilized in many vehicles across the world, both passenger and freight. This is a limited autonomous vehicle technology which allows the vehicle to sense it's surroundings and make changes when dangers are present. This includes things like self-braking, or alarms when the vehicle drifts out of the lane. This technology would not replace drivers at all, but rather assist them to make their routes safer and more efficient.
It is easier to automate driving on highways and interstates where driving is continuous and does not come in contact with cross traffic. This principle was used as the basis for the transfer-hub model, which would see fully autonomous, unmanned trucks driving freight along the freeways from one exit to another. At exits, trucks would enter a transfer-hub where cargo would be transferred from the autonomous trucks to a manned vehicle, and the driver would perform the more complex driving within urban areas of high density. This model maximizes the efficiency of the autonomous trucks and the skill of truck drivers.
Remote Drivers Model
Another model that has been proposed by Starsky Robotics is to remove drivers from the cab of freight vehicles and place them in an office instead. Here, autonomous vehicles would do the majority of their driving unassisted, but monitored by drivers remotely. Should the driver think assistance is required, they are able to remotely take control of the vehicle via a steering wheel complex at their desk. Here, drivers would be able to utilize their skills to maximize the safety of the vehicles when necessary, such as in high-density areas or when approaching a loading-dock.
Private Site Use
Another common use of autonomous freight vehicles is within private space. Mines, ports, agricultural areas, and stockyards are already utilizing autonomous vehicles to manage the movement of freight through their facilities. More and more companies are beginning to implement autonomous vehicles, which helps us to expand the technology through the feedback recieved in field-tests. These vehicles provide companies with additional efficiency throughout their business, without significantly increasing operational costs.