Driverless vehicles: The end of the road for the trucker?

Smart Business explores the ways companies are thinking smart to thrive in our digitized world.

Story highlights

Vehicles being developed that can automatically steer, brake, accelerate, and change lanes

Google, Daimler and Nissan are a few of the firms testing this technology

Driverless trucks could aid businesses by running around the clock

CNN  — 

Driving a lorry or a truck across the country isn’t easy. In the United States, by law truckers have to take a break after 11 consecutive hours. In Britain, the maximum driving time is nine hours per day.

But imagine a world where trucks drive through the night without ever stopping. There’s no need for a coffee break or a nap, and yet there are never any accidents. That’s because these trucks don’t actually have any drivers.

The age of the driverless vehicle is upon us. Some famous names have been developing and testing prototypes with the aim of making them commercially viable. Google, a pioneer in the field, started its self-driving car project in 2009 and its autonomous vehicles completed 100,000 miles (about 161,000 kilometers) on public roads 18 months later.

The United Kingdom recently allowed the vehicles on the road, joining California, Florida and Nevada in the United States in changing the laws to accommodate the new technology.

Businesses stand to benefit in a multitude of ways, whether they are waiting for delivery of goods or for executives to arrive for meetings or conferences. Smoother traffic flow will make journey times more predictable and scheduling simple. Maintenance of a steady speed will reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions. And the “drivers” – if vehicles have them – may carry out other tasks while traveling and arrive fresher.

And it’s not chump change. For example, in Europe, 76% of total goods traffic in 2011 were transported by road, according to the European Union.

Daimler, the German car giant, says that, despite European roads becoming over-congested as the highway network has hardly grown in recent years, goods traffic is set to increase substantially in the coming years. The company is developing the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 with the promise that in a decade drivers of the vehicle will be “transport managers” rather than truck drivers.