Trucking execs: Autonomous trucks are coming, believe it or not

download (3)DALLAS — Gather a group of executives involved in some facet of trucking and let them start talking about autonomous vehicles, and in particular autonomous trucks, and the picture becomes crystal clear — they are coming, like it or not, believe it or not.

But they won’t dominate the market until mid-century.

That was the consensus after an hour of discussion by a panel of four Wednesday at the Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference under way at the Omni Hotel here.

The conference is being held in conjunction with the Great American Trucking Show that begins Thursday at the Kay Bailey Convention Center adjacent to the Omni Hotel.

Panelists included:

• Josh Switkes, CEO of Peloton Technology, which assists commercial drivers and fleets with safety and efficiency.

• Bill Kahn, a principal engineer at Peterbilt Motors Co., who is the OEM’s manager of advanced concepts.

• Derek Rotz, manager of advanced engineering at Daimler Trucks North America, where he has worked the past 10 years to fuel efficiency research and development.

• Sandeep Kar, an expert in heavy truck systems and technology.

The panel was moderated by Paul Menig, who was head of electronics, brakes and safety systems at Daimler from 1994-2012, and who set the stage for the discussion by telling the audience of trucking industry stakeholders that “People are interested in automated vehicles, but they are scared. Right now, they talk about taking the automated vehicles to the vehicle they are going to drive.”

The advancement of automation is divided into four levels, with Level 4 being the most advanced and requiring no driver. Level 3 is about half automated, half driver involvement.

That’s when totally autonomous vehicles will have noticeably penetrated the market, but far from a dominant presence.

Switkes said platooning is a level of automation. It connects trucks through vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-cloud communication and begins with an active braking system that is always engaged.

In platooning, two tractor-trailers travel in tandem about 40 feet apart.

The cloud monitors the vehicles’ movement and, for instance, will apply the brakes of the trailing truck when the lead truck engages its brakes.

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