Autonomous trucking has long been heralded as the answer to a variety of persistent supply chain ills, including hours of service constraints, underutilized assets and wasted miles driven without a load and growing labor shortages. Once regarded as a thing of the far-off future, autonomous technology is becoming an attainable reality quicker than anyone expected. Trucking companies hoping to utilize this technology most effectively should begin making strategic changes to their operating models today or they run the risk of not being prepared for tomorrow.
Locomation has made a name for itself with its human-guided Autonomous Relay Convoy (ARC), the first step on the road to full autonomy. An ARC system consists of two autonomy-capable trucks with one driver in each truck. Each driver takes turns actively leading the convoy, fully engaged in the function of driving, while the driver in the follower truck rests in the sleeper berth while the vehicle drives in autonomous follower mode.
This human-guided phase of the company’s four-step approach to autonomous trucking allows for step-by-step progression without compromising the safety of the drivers, others on the road, or the loads. ARC technology allows the trucks to operate 20 to 22 hours per day in this convoying activity, doubling a driver’s standard 11 on-duty driving hours under current U.S. Department of Transportation hours-of-service rules.
While innovation in the autonomous space is moving at breakneck speed, Locomation has devised a way to help trucking companies re-engineer their operating models to begin seeing some of the most anticipated impacts of autonomous technology – including improved efficiency and reduced operating costs – even before they deploy autonomous trucks.
Through Locomation’s Autonomous Relay Network (ARN), trucking companies can increase their overall efficiency, reduce their operating costs by 5 to 7%, and establish a sustainability roadmap. ARN addresses a universal challenge across the trucking industry: the growing discrepancy between available trucks and qualified drivers.
“There is a mismatch between driver capacity and truck capacity. The driver must sleep, so the truck must sleep, meaning 50% or more equipment underutilization. In fact, we know it’s more like 70%,” Tom Kroswek, Locomation vice president of strategy and business development said. “So if we want to double a fleet’s capacity, how can we get trucks running 1,000 miles per day? To do this means a carrier must change its over-the-road operating model fundamentally.”
Locomation’s solution is to split the driving activity between the long-distance linehaul and local assets, allowing the trucks to run more than 20 hours per day. In this model, trucking companies can optimize the linehaul by utilizing team drivers or opt to set up relays with different drivers completing, for example, 500-mile round trips via handoffs at 250 miles in each direction.
This operating model shift allows trucking companies to get a taste of the rewards waiting for them when they are able to deploy the company’s ARC system. It also prepares companies for a seamless transition to autonomy when the time is right.
“Once a company institutes this optimized operating model, incorporating the ARC system is seamless. Our autonomous convoys, with one human-driven truck leading and a second follower truck operating in autonomy mode with its driver resting, will take the new operating model’s efficiency gains supersonic,” Kroswek said. “At full implementation, we estimate profit increases of three or four fold above today’s levels.”