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By Keith Brandis, Vice President Partnerships & Strategic Solutions, Volvo Trucks North America

Electromobility, Big Data and Automation Shifting the Trucking Industry's FutureKeith Brandis, Vice President Partnerships & Strategic Solutions, Volvo Trucks North America

The United States trucking industry currently carries 10.5 billion tons of freight, requiring over 3.6 million trucks and nearly 3.5 million drivers. With roughly 71 per cent of all the freight tonnage moved in the U.S. going by truck, our industry is the lifeblood of the economy, and without it, our country would come to a standstill. Incredibly, the industry is expected to carry double that amount of freight – nearly 22 billion tons – by 2029.

In addition to this enormous volume, also comes a rise in demand for delivery speed and accuracy. Trucking businesses must consider next-day and even same-day delivery at the same time, seeking to improve safety and efficiency measures. Fortunately, many key stakeholders, including customers, cities and businesses, are recognizing this trend and are collaborating to develop and deliver connected solutions that promote safety and increase efficiency and profitability.

The transportation industry’s ability to harness the power of electromobility, big data and automation are critical to its future success. Never has that been truer than within the trucking industry itself. One of the ways the industry is improving efficiency is by anticipating future landscapes in order to accurately size vehicles that meet specific demands. The design of long-haul trucks will continue to emphasize sleek, aerodynamic exteriors and offer weight-reduction options to maximize payload. Additionally, powertrain combinations such as advanced engine technology, automated transmissions and faster rear axle ratios will further optimize fuel economy.

Regional or middle-haul trucks are notably impacted by the current growth of distribution centers in urban areas. In order to appropriately address congestion, noise and environmental concerns in these heavily populated locations, it is important to consider how advanced clean transportation solutions, including the use of alternative fuels and electric trucks, can be part of the solution.

Automation is an enabler of the industry’s mission to enhance professional driver safety and improve the well-being of all those on the road

Efforts are already underway in the trucking industry to foster the development of infrastructure required to support electric vehicles. While a far-reaching electromobility infrastructure system is still in the future, Volvo Trucks and other industry leaders are focused on developing areas with dense truck populations. Simply put, the infrastructure will follow where the trucks are running.

One notable project currently underway is the Volvo Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions (LIGHTS) program, a public-private partnership including 16 stakeholders collaborating to advance freight operations at the facilities of two of the United States’ top trucking fleets. Part of the California Climate Investment, Volvo LIGHTS includes valuable partnerships between Volvo, California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District and California Air Resources Board, along with Southern California Edison, local community colleges and others, working together to reduce noise and the environmental footprint in the second-most populated area in the United States – the L.A. basin and its surrounding corridor. Volvo’s all-electric VNR regional-haul demonstrator trucks will be operating later this year in California, with a planned commercial roll-out in 2020.

When it comes to big data, the truck itself has been an on-board information source for years. But, the process to retrieve data steeply diminished the value of the insights for drivers, fleet owners and OEMs: the truck would have to go into a dealership and physically connect to a cable to download vehicle data history. Today, advanced telematics devices that enable remote and real-time data analysis and vehicle diagnostics have transformed the industry. For example, Volvo’s factory-built integrated telematics platform delivers a live feed of the vehicle status which helps predict required services and complete software and over-the-air parameter updates in fewer than 20 minutes. Sent wirelessly via remote programming, these updates can be done during a short meal or operational break virtually anywhere with a cellular connection– all while avoiding a visit to a dealership or service bay. Continual analysis of the data, inclusive of trends and repeated events, will drive future component and system designs on the trucks leading to even further optimized uptime for the customer. 

While the industry has made substantial progress over the last five years, it is ultimately just scratching the surface in terms of the potential of rich data collected from these advanced telematics platforms.

Automation is an enabler of the industry’s mission to enhance professional driver safety and improve the well-being of all those on the road. Benefits of automation technologies include collision mitigation, collision avoidance, lane departure warning and automatic emergency braking. We see technology maturing with higher levels of conditional automation, such as lane keeping and camera monitoring systems, benefiting the professional drivers of tomorrow. Professional drivers perform a variety of tasks ranging from pre-trip inspections and working with dispatchers, making advancements in driver safety systems key to supporting the well-being, retention and recruitment of drivers.

Evaluating connected vehicle technologies in real-world environments is an essential part of the development process, reducing emissions, increasing transportation efficiency and improving road safety. About 90% of the environmental impact generated by a truck occurs during its operation – mostly through fuel consumption and the discharge of carbon dioxide and other emissions. This is why energy efficiency and alternative fuels play a central role in our environmental approach. For example, Volvo trucks with embedded connectivity technologies operate with the latest software, enabling drivers to switch between operating modes for a multitude of optimizations including maximizing truck performance, balancing fuel usage and performance, maximizing fuel efficiency and engine function, and configuring maximum road speeds, ultimately resulting in a reduction of diesel emissions.

In the near future, we see further advancements in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. One example is Volvo’s recent demonstration of Eco-Drive technology in California, which integrates traffic signal data with vehicle dynamics to provide real-time speed recommendations to eliminate abrupt driving maneuvers and maximize fuel usage by avoiding stop-and-go driving.

Countless innovations are driving the future of the trucking industry including enhancing safety, driver comfort and logistics efficiencies. It’s an exciting time to participate in the digitally-driven transportation revolution and look forward to delivering end-to-end solutions that drive progress.

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