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Autonomous Trucking – an Analysis of Incremental Steps

Autonomous trucking is one of the hot topics, and incumbent trucking companies, such as Daimler Trucks, Navistar International, Paccar Inc, and Volvo Group, envision a future within reach. Industry reports indicate that to realize this future several different steps need to be taken incrementally, which stresses the need for effective management of opportunities and uncertainties. [1,2]

Here is a brief overview of the case of Daimler Trucks: Daimler Trucks is upgrading the trucks to ensure safe and reliable trucking operations, e.g., by adding features to truck chassis that would enable redundancy of systems. The further tuning of systems has required several steps. Daimler Trucks has been asking it’s Tier 1 suppliers to enhance their safety technologies with LiDAR cameras, and computer systems. In August of last year, Daimler Trucks acquired Torc Robotics. According to reports, companies such as, Ike Robotics and Torc Robotics, are developing technologies that enable autonomous trucks. The acquisition is an indication of the need to control key technology providers.

However, such an investment requires more investments. Recently, Daimler Trucks has built a test center to support testing and provision of data for additional use-cases. The test center has been placed in proximity to the location of Torc Robotics’ US operations. Interestingly, since last year in the United States, various stakeholders and actors from the public and the private sector are provided access to an online tool, which facilitates voluntary data sharing on-road testing and development of prototypes of automated-driving systems. When it comes to consideration for customers, the company is focusing on the reskilling of drivers for autonomous trucking, e.g., by asking for additional training and certifications. Many of these steps may give the impression that Daimler Trucks’ attitude to changes has been to rush towards the autonomous trucking vision. However, according to its representative, Daimler Trucks has adopted an unhurried approach mindset and leveled the vision with highly automated trucks with customers’ preferences for technology adoption. This has been possible based on customer insights accumulated over the company’s’ many years in business.  

Personal comments 

News on autonomous trucking occur more frequently. However, the recent updates from Daimler Trucks and others suggest that the vision with autonomous trucking is a strategic concern for both the industry and especially management, which needs to consider the incremental character of the required. The parameters below gives an example of how the steps touch upon several but different management realms.

Product upgrade: Truck chassis

System tuning: Requests to suppliers, test centers, data sharing with the eco-system

Control of resources: Key technology providers

Customer reskilling: Training and certifications for drivers

Attitude to change: Unhurried approach mindset

In the end, the case illustrates that the vision is dispersed over a period of ten years, a notion that should also motivate managerial attention to the sustainability of business models and resilience.

 

Written by Alexander Rad, RISE Mobility and Systems.

 

Sources 

1. 2020-09-03 Daimler, Torc Robotics See Path to Autonomous Trucking as Marathon Transport Topics

2. 2020-09-07 Daimler Trucks’ Autonomous Technology Group adding testing center in New Mexico