Automation has been the dream of many manufacturers and inventors since the industrial revolution. In the automobile industry that dream is now a reality. Scania recently launched their first autonomous truck in August 2018. The system was unveiled with the Scania XT 8×4 autonomous tipper truck. The initial stages had a safety driver ride in the cockpit to monitor the performance and intervene in case the need arises. The system is currently serving the Rio Tinto’s Dampier Salt operations in Western Australia. Although the truck was initially used outside active operations, its performance has made it an intricate part of the mining operations.
Self-driving vehicles are increasing in sales and the forecast is set at 60,000 autonomous trucks by 2035. Although the thought of having driverless cars on the road sounds dangerous, the systems employed in the trucks have numerous sensors and safety programs to facilitate movement on the open road. A keen look at the automobile industry reveals that automation was always the inevitable objective. Most modern cars come with cruise-control, navigation sensors, accident evasion technologies and driver assistant systems. All these systems are automated and make driving an extremely simple task. The only difference between modern commercially available cars and autonomous cars is that for the latter driving is not a task at all.
Three main types of sensors drive autonomous trucks. Most of these sensors feature in modern commercial vehicles that can be considered semi-autonomous. Rear and 360° cameras are important to achieve autonomy. Cameras provide invaluable information on what lies outside the truck. With 360° cameras, three dimensional images can be generated and utilised to guide the automated driving system. Forward facing camera systems are useful for traffic sign recognition, road guidance and video-based distance control. These cameras can identify vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, side stripes, road margins and bridge abutments.
According to recent statistics on road accidents, 76% of all accidents are solely attributed to human error. Radar systems used in autonomous trucks greatly reduce the probability of accidents. Radar application is important for blind spot detection, lane and lane-change assist, parking assist, cross-traffic monitoring, brake assist, emergency braking and automatic distance control. Autonomous trucks use short range radar sensors placed at each corner of the vehicle and long range radar sensors positioned at the front of the vehicle.
Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system is a new system in the automotive industry that uses laser technology to measure relative distance. It also generates three dimensional images of the detected objects. All these three systems work in tandem to provide valuable input for autonomous trucks to manoeuvre seamlessly on the open roads and react to any eventuality. The chances of error are also minimal. Automated driving systems are divided into three main categories; conditional automation, high automation and full automation. The latter has the most complex set up and it’s where the Scania XT 8×4 autonomous tipper truck lies. The system employed in the truck covers all driving scenarios and it’s operator free.
Although concerns loom over the automated vehicle industry, developers are confident self-driving trucks will soon become the norm. In fact self-driving trucks will hit the road before self-driving cars. Autonomous trucks will see improved productivity, fuel efficiency, reduced transportation costs and reduced traffic on the highways. However, the new technology has prompted numerous legal considerations and a lot of testing is being done to ensure a full-proof system is in place. Although truck drivers fear losing their jobs, an autonomous truck still requires a driver in the cab at all times. A lot can go wrong and it’s prudent to have a driver on stand-by to deal with any eventualities.
Despite all the automation, trucks will always be trucks and spare parts still play an integral part to the functioning of autonomous trucks. Brakes are always the first casualty when it comes to wear and tear. With the right spare parts, your braking system will maintain its function. However, poor quality parts may leave room for errors in the automation system. When deciding when to brake, the braking power is a big determinant. Therefore to have a well-functioning automated driving system, the braking system must equally be up to the task. Moreover, the electrical system must be frequently serviced and if anything needs replacement, only quality products should be used.
Automation is definitely a huge step in the automobile industry. However, some parts of the car still remain the same and need the same amount of attention and servicing. In fact, with an automated system in place, all the vehicle parts must be in top-notch condition. Quality spares will definitely maintain the high performance of autonomous trucks. As Scania rolls out its first fleet of autonomous vehicles it’s important to remember the success of an automated system lies in all the parts working in synergy.