By Michael Bradley, Commercial Regional Sales Manager
With the well-documented shortage of semi-truck drivers currently in the United States, where do we stand in terms of developing and deploying autonomous trucks? Will autonomous long-haul trucks take jobs away from drivers? Are fully autonomous trucks safe for the roads? What does the future look like for autonomous trucks? These are all great questions. This blog will discuss all that and more, so let’s jump in and discuss it.
In terms of deployment of autonomous trucks, there are currently a number of companies that are at this moment conducting autonomous long haul driving across the country. These runs are taking place at what the industry designates as Level 4 Autonomy, meaning there is a driver in the cab, but they are only monitoring the systems controlling the driving functions of the rig. The onboard high-performance computer system is ingesting data points that are gathered from several cameras, sensors, radar, and lidar components. A high-performance computing (HPC) system processes this information and the algorithms, then decides instantaneously the correct action that needs to take place. The industry designates 5 levels of autonomy; the below chart helps explain the levels:
In terms of development and deployment of autonomous trucks, we have come a long way over the years, and we are beginning to see the results. As HPC systems evolve, the industry will continue to progress toward Level 5 autonomy, and fully autonomous trucks will be capable of handling the brunt of the workload.
When talking about deploying autonomous trucks, many worry that jobs are being taken away from current truck drivers. According to the American Trucking Association, there is currently an estimated shortage of 80,000 truck drivers, and with roughly 70% of the freight in America moved by semi-trucks, you can see where the issues can start to affect all of us. It is important to note that the autonomous long-haul trucking industry is looking to provide a solution to the driver shortage. Currently, autonomous long-haul trucking is not planning to handle the highly skilled driving that is required for oversized load hauling and driving in urban settings. This will allow drivers to take jobs that are higher-paying and more specialized, due to the amount of skill required. So, will autonomous trucks take jobs away from drivers? A certain amount, yes, but overall, it will allow drivers to be home with their families more often, as well as let drivers obtain higher-paying jobs for the highly skilled driving jobs that are available.
When you hear about AI and machines operating independently without any human intervention, a certain level of concern is warranted. When talking with several autonomous trucking companies, although they may approach autonomous driving differently, they all place safety as their number one priority. This article from VentureBeat shows the results from a 2-year study where AI technology led to 22% fewer accidents, and 56% fewer unsafe driving incidents. How is this accomplished? Many companies have multi-level redundancy, meaning that if it fails, there is a backup in place that can take over if needed. One Stop Systems (OSS) has system monitoring to keep an eye on the components within the system. GPUs, motherboards, and power supplies are just a few of the components that are monitored within the HPC. OSS designs their products to meet certain standards, MIL-STD-810G for example. Our systems are ruggedized and designed to be deployed in the harshest environments at the very edge. Systems such as our EB4400 have been deployed in an autonomous truck platform currently, and have been highly successful in handling the processing of data captured by all the sensors required for autonomous driving. It features a frame-in-frame design for ruggedness, a hold down bar for the GPUs, and dual redundant power supplies. All of this is to ensure that the system remains up and running, keeping the truck operating at optimum performance.
The Future of Autonomous Trucks
So, where do autonomous trucks go from here? Many of the requirements for autonomous trucks are still being refined. However, as software and hardware companies continue to evolve, so will the autonomous truck industry. Here at OSS, we are working closely with our customers to learn and grow with them and build a sustainable partnership, ensuring that the long-haul autonomous truck industry continues to grow and be successful. As mentioned, we are currently at Level 4 autonomy, but are on the cusp of Level 5, powered by One Stop Systems’ hardware. To learn more about HPC and how it is used in autonomous trucks, read this blog post by OSS’ VP of Product Marketing, Tim Miller.
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