CeMAT Insider

4 benefits of using driverless trucks in your supply chain

Posted by CeMAT Team on 10-Oct-2016 09:17:06


Self-driving cars are inevitable. Well at least according to futurist and Google’s Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil.

In the next 10 years, we will see an increase in the amount of vehicles on the road that have driverless features, but not only that, IHS has predicted that by 2050 all vehicles will be totally autonomous.

CeMAT-Insider-quote-36.pngAnd if all of that sounds like it’s happening just a bit too quickly, Tesla’s CEO states that autonomous driving is “probably less than two years away”. Cities will need to adapt to a new transport network filled with autonomous vehicles ferrying sleeping (or texting) passengers.

So that is the current state of play for driverless vehicles on a societal level, but what about in the supply chain?

They say automated trucks will be the next big disruption to distribution, and although they do seem as though they are something straight out of the latest Sci-Fi blockbuster, the technology behind these vehicles really isn’t that far off. 

Let’s take a look at what makes a driverless truck and their potential impact on distribution.


What makes a vehicle autonomous?

In 2015, the world’s first self-driving semi-truck literally hit the road. Aptly named the Freightliner Inspiration, throughout history it will be instantly recognised as the first generation of autonomous freightliners.

CeMAT-Insider-quote-37.pngPut plainly, a self-driving truck is an autonomous vehicle that is capable of sensing it’s environment and navigating it’s way without human interaction. They normally have a range of different techniques to detect their surroundings including radar, LIDaR, GPS, odometry and computer vision.

Self-driving cars can be divided into two separate categories.

Semi-autonomous cars

Semi-autonomous cars still require human interaction as they are still in control and responsible for the vehicle. The car may be seen to give the driver a ‘lending hand’ as it assists on highways, with parking, or even breaking and accelerating.

For the purposes of this post we won’t go further into these are it’s the version below that is set to transform distribution.


Fully autonomous cars

A fully autonomous vehicle can take passengers from point A to B without any human interaction. The car should be able to handle all on-road scenarios including changes in traffic and whether or not to merge into a certain lane if a turn is coming up.

Autonomous cars can also be divided further into either user-operated or completely driverless vehicles.


The benefits to the supply chain

CeMAT-Insider-quote-38.pngFormer COO of Chrysler and member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG states “there’s a clear need for this generation of trucks”.

Although some of the globe’s largest freight carriers are implementing semi-autonomous features such as automatic breaking, there is a strong case for fully autonomous trucks to take over the market. Below we’ve listed just a few of the reasons why.


1. Driverless trucks will be safer

In 2012, 330 large trucks were involved in crashes in the US. This resulted in the deaths of nearly 4000 people. 90% of these accidents were caused by driver error.

The sensors in autonomous trucks and cars can sense when other vehicles or obstacles come close to them and they can automatically break. Taking out any room for human error during potential collisions as well as highly reducing driver stress, the more autonomous vehicles that are on the road will mean we’ll see far less accidents. 

Some bloggers have even gone so far to say that self-driving trucks will be the end of heavy vehicle fatalities. Daimler AG even believes that autonomous trucks will relieve the burden of long-haul journeys and will essentially eliminate the problem of driver fatigue and driver error.

According to Daimler, automated trucks could reduce future collisions by more than 70%, quite a staggering figure.


2. The cost structure of the supply chain will be transformed

According to Fully Loaded, labour represents roughly 75% of the cost of shipping a full truckload across the US.

Autonomous trucks will be able to cover more territory by traveling farther without stopping for breaks. Delivery times will be shortened quite substantially.

This in turn will allow some users to set up their warehouse in more remote locations where land is less expensive, meaning lower transportation costs of driverless trucks and reduced labour costs should help to off-set the increasing costs for warehousing space.

3. Reduces the density of warehouse networks

Space is of the essence when it comes to e-Commerce, and a recent report by Prologis Inc revealed that warehouses catered to online shoppers require three tines the space of traditional retailers.

Shippers, retailers and manufacturers will all be looking to reconfigure their supply chains and distribution strategies.

If driverless trucks result in more and more users moving their distribution centres to remote locations, there will be a greater demand for cheaper land, and more diffuse, smaller urban distribution warehouses.

This will give many businesses the opportunity to choose whether they can run a remote distribution centre or a small urban distribution centre that (for example) might require higher inventory turnover and faster delivery.


4. Reductions in the labour market

Because it is known as a dangerous and hard job to have, there is a serious shortage of humans who are actually willing to take the wheel.

According to Adam Carey, a journalist from The Age, Australia’s truck wheels are certainly not in motion. A large-scale survey of the Australian trucking industry has found that not only are freight carriers struggling to find new staff, the current fleet of truck drivers are ageing.

This is countered by the rapid growth in demand for trucking thanks to online shopping. The amount of freight expected to be moved by truck in Australia between 2010 and 2030 will double. 



It’s fair to say that distribution may be irrevocably disrupted by the adoption of driverless trucks for freight forwarding. Not only are they safer and cheaper to run, they will eventually lead to the spreading out of warehouse networks to more remote locations and will help to alleviate the disintegration of human truck driver jobs.

What are your predictions for driverless trucks? Comment below to let us know how you think it will transform distribution.

Topics: Supply Chain Management, Logistics Automation