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Prime Mover Magazine


Autonomous trucks to be an Australian reality

Viva Energy says autonomous and platooning truck technology will become prevalent on Australian roads in less than 20 years, though Kings Transport CEO, Tony Mellick, questions whether the country's infrastructure is ready.

According to Viva Energy, South Australia hosted the first driverless vehicle trial on an Australian public road in November 2015.

Victoria's 30-year infrastructure strategy includes testing of freight vehicle platooning, making the state a leader in preparing for the technology, Viva Energy says.

Kings Transport and Logistics CEO, Tony Mellick, told Viva Energy he expects autonomous trucks will become the norm rather than the exception, particularly for single pickup and delivery runs.

“I think the application in long-distance movement of freight by autonomous trucks is sound,” Mellick said.

“Having the ability to send out 200 tonnes of freight rather than 20-34 tonnes by platooning three or more trucks, is a cost-effective way of moving freight.

“It’s safer because it removes fatigue from the risk matrix and, given the constraints of the current labour market, would be a welcome solution for most long-distance service providers.”

Mellick reportedly said that while new vehicle technologies are certainly heading in the direction of connected autonomy, it is less clear how soon Australia will have the infrastructure to support driverless trucks on our highways.

“All this is reliant on investment by governments to build the infrastructure into the highways and roads to facilitate it. My understanding is that for autonomous trucks to be viable there needs to be sensors, monitors and technology embedded along the road to keep the truck from straying out of the lanes, for instance.

“Apart from Eastlink in Melbourne, I’m not aware of any infrastructure enabling the commercialisation of autonomous trucks in Australia.”

Felix Ohle, General Manager Logistics at Viva Energy, said Australia will start to see semi-autonomous trucks within 15 years.

“Over the past decade we have seen an increasing number of applications of autonomous technology especially in the mining sector. While this takes place in a controlled environment it demonstrates the viability of the technology. In North America and Europe autonomous trucks are being tested in uncontrolled environments and I think it’s just a matter of time before other commercial applications become a viable reality.

“Autonomous trucks may not be suitable everywhere around the country and we will have to work out where this technology can add the greatest benefit to a growing transport industry,” he said.

Ohle said Viva Energy’s move into autonomous vehicles is still a while off, due to the human element still needed in its delivery processes.

“Ultimately these developments are based around data becoming more accessible, so the future challenge will be based around harnessing and using all that data to our advantage," Ohle said.

"Safety, reliability and efficiency are core to Viva Energy's supply chain and logistics businesses, so autonomous vehicles offer us the opportunity to revisit how we best serve our customers in the future."

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