Autonomous trucks seems like a new concept, but bits and pieces of the idea have been in place for years. As technology advances, people become more comfortable allowing their vehicles to control select functions. Cruise control, automatic transmission, and anti-lock brakes are all examples of automation. To a certain extent, autonomous trucks are already here.
Several truck manufacturers offer automated features on their commercial motor vehicles. Most offer cruise control, which at its most basic level, allows the truck to maintain a specified speed without help from the driver. Credited with being invented in 1948, cruise control has come a long way from a simple speed monitor. Mack Trucks offer predictive cruise control, allowing the truck to adjust speed according to the topography. Kenworth and Freightliner both offer adaptive cruise control, which not only controls speed but also adjusts for the following distance between the truck and the lead vehicle. In both examples, the driver relinquishes some control to the truck while still being able to override these functions when needed.
In mid-2016, Chrysler released a commercial highlighting their hands-free park assist option. During the 30-second ad, Jim Gaffigan parallel parks his vehicle at the push of a button. Even though this type of technology is a ways off for the commercial truck industry, there are other types of driver assistance features starting to appear on the market. Kenworth and Freightliner both offer collision mitigation technology. Collision mitigation technology gives the driver an audible warning if the vehicle is getting too close to the vehicle in front. If the driver does not respond, the truck will apply the brakes itself to help lessen the severity of an accident.
Autonomous technologies for commercial trucks are not new. Automatic transmissions allow vehicles to shift without driver assistance. Cruise Control trusts the vehicle to autonomously maintain a set speed. As the trucking industry continues to advance, so does its technology. Current autonomous advancements are designed to give truck drivers more information about the roads they travel. Drivers are still in control and responsible for the truck’s movement, but now the trucks have a more interactive role. New technologies, like lane departure warnings, give drivers a more complete view of what is happening around the truck. Trucks are working with the drivers to make the roads safe.