Page 31 - Commercial Vehicle Engineer - October 2021
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There is a strong commercial case for greater investment in autonomous commercial vehicles. One factor is the current limitations on human driver hours for safety reasons, which limits journeys
to 11 hours. With autonomous trucking, the vehicle could be on the road for longer periods. It’s estimated that a trip from New York to LA could be cut from five days to just two, resulting in significant cost savings.
Autonomous trucking is also being touted as a possible solution to the shortage of truck drivers. Although two thirds of US consumer goods are transported by trucks, the American Trucking Association (ATA) predicts the driver shortage will reach 160,000 by 2028. Here in the UK, the Road Haulage Association estimates the country is currently about 100,000 drivers short of what is needed. By investing in greater levels of autonomy, the industry can solve the driver shortage while continuing to meet growing demand for deliveries.
According to advocates of autonomous trucks, AI-based cruise control will save up to 10% in fuel costs. The optimised driving judgements of the AI can yield other savings from reduced tyre and brake wear to lower maintenance and insurance costs. The process of optimising journeys will make further improvements as the AT will gather data from journeys and use this to enhance fuel efficiency.
How exactly will autonomous trucks work? Rather than automating the entire journey, the current plan is for a hub-to- hub approach. This means the autonomous, or semi-autonomous, HGV would transport goods from one depot to another, along a relatively straightforward route. The more complex last mile of the delivery would then be performed by a human driver.
A common approach to the development of autonomous trucks is the development of a computer ‘driver’. This can be retrofitted to an existing vehicle, rather than having
to develop an entirely new vehicle from scratch. For example, Aurora has been developing a one-size-fits all system that can be installed on any vehicle.
Roger Brereton
“Governments across the globe are quickly coming to the realisation that having their own semiconductor manufacturing industry is a good step to support and protect their industry”
Vehicle original equipment manufacturers have always demanded high quality components. These vehicles must travel immense distances in all manner of weather conditions, placing significant demands on steering and suspension parts.
To be ready for the autonomous trucking future, component manufacturers may need to raise their game. According to 2019 data from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance,
538 out-of-service (OOS) violations
were discovered during vehicle checks,
in addition to a further 1,000 non-OOS violations. Problems included suspension defects or steering-related problems. The most common steering-related defects were when components were found to be worn, welded or even missing.
Although relatively rare, reducing
the risk of component defects is of growing importance, as autonomous trucks must demonstrate the highest levels of reliability and safety to become commercially viable.
It is not enough to demonstrate that
an autonomous vehicle is as safe as a human driver, as can be seen from some
of the high-profile accidents that have undermined efforts to develop driverless tech in other vehicle sectors. Whether we are talking about a steering universal joint or steering columns, opting for high quality parts helps reduce the risks of defects.
A decade ago, few would have predicted that long haul trucking would have been the focal point of new autonomous driving technologies. Now, the sector looks like it will reap the benefits of autonomy ahead of other vehicle sectors. Although the focus will be on software development and testing of AI, parts suppliers also need to contribute by making sure
their components will meet the unique challenges these vehicles will face.
Roger Brereton is head of sales at Pailton Engineering.
Pailton Engineering manufactures steering columns, steering universal joints and other steering parts for heavy vehicles. To find out more, visit

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