The concept of a 'self-driving' truck has come a long way since The Simpsons first popularised to the idea in 1999. In an episode titled 'Maximum Homerdrive', the comical narrative features Homer's inept adventures as a truck driver, where he unwittingly discovers the 'secret' to long-distance haulage. Fatigued by the arduous transport schedule, Homer falls asleep at the wheel, only to find the vehicle has driven by itself - saved by its so-called 'Navitron Autodrive' system.
Once considered the stuff of science fiction (or even a humorous punchline), is fast approaching reality. While many of us have already learned of Google's ambitious plans to mass-produce self-driving automobiles, the technology's far-reaching applications have somehow gone below the radar. In what's widely-tipped to revolutionise the transportation industry, such automation is theoretically scalable (to any size), prompting manufacturers in recent years to make the tangible and lucrative steps to trucking.
While recent advances in electronics and data processing have expedited the arrival of self-driving trucks, regional legislation is likely to be its greatest on road hurdle. Prioritising safety over predicated economic gains (amongst other advantages) it's anticipated local governments will be wary of the technology's fledgling mass production and wide-spread service. Lack of comparable data (i.e. accident statistics) may prompt many countries to take a 'wait and see' approach as early adaptors tentatively pioneer its use.
Further to the highly scrutinised technological areas of enquiry, legislators will need to consider human factors related to the conduct and behaviour of accompanying drivers. There are concerns some will become complacent or even unskilled in the long-term if habitual abilities remain idle. In response to such concerns, manufacturers have been quick to highlight the technology's unwavering attention to the road. Unlike its human counterparts, the on-board computer is never complacent, districted or fatigued. It will even reposition automatically to the side of the road to allow unimpeded emergency service vehicles to pass with ease. What's more, drivers can complete accompanying transport paperwork while on-the-go (saving time) without the temptation of doing so while driving.
Although initial launch may be hindered by legislative factors, we believe it's just a matter of time before you see a self-driving truck traversing a highway near you. What do you think? Join the conversion on Facebook, Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn.