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Prime Mover Magazine

Automated trucks to prompt industry consolidation

Ferrier Hodgson Partner and Prime Mover columnist, Brendan Richards, has predicted that the implementation of automated truck technology may soon prompt a massive consolidation of transport operators.

As part of his Logistics Mindset column in the July edition of Prime Mover magazine, Richards suggested that self-driving automation technology might pose a threat to owner-drivers, which make up a significant portion of the some 40,000 operators in the Australian transport sector.

"[self-driving automation] is surprisingly mature – and already in use. In the Pilbara, autonomous trucks are moving tonnes of material between the mines at Yandicoogina, Nammuldi and Hope Downs 4…In those mines, and others like them, there is no truck driver present," he said.

"Experiments have also been performed on public land. Last September, Daimler unveiled the ‘Future Truck 2025’ prototype and sent it down the highway for a few kilometres. Self-driving automated trucks are expected to be production-ready by 2025."

According to Richards, safety and cost are the main factors leading to the disappearance of the owner-driver.

"As for safety, it’s enough to say that 90 per cent of motor vehicle accidents are caused by human error. Take the driver out of the equation, and you not only improve safety, but you lower your transport costs by 30 per cent overnight," he said.

Richards pointed out that lane departure warning systems, advanced emergency braking systems, and adaptive cruise control are all examples of how the driver is progressively disappearing into the background.

"At first, the driver will still be there, but they won’t be driving. Much like a pilot in a commercial airliner, they will be there more as a manager, ready to take control of the vehicle when needed," he said.

"There are still many technical and legal hurdles that must be overcome before the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles is possible, but it’s clear that we are already a long way down the road. As such, the removal of the driver is inevitable.

"What we do know is that there will be a massive consolidation of transport providers. We know that the costs associated with being an owner-driver will continue to rise as bigger operators reap the rewards of an investment in automation that the owner-driver is neither geared for nor can possibly afford.

"We also know that this will all happen far sooner than anyone thinks, because technology has a habit of advancing quickly like that. It will happen in line-haul first.

"The last mile of delivery still presents a lot more challenges than technology can solve in the short term. But if you are an owner-driver, you need to start preparing for a very different kind of future and you may need to contemplate a future that is outside the industry altogether."

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