Driverless trucks could ‘revolutionise GCC transport’

Strategy&: Self-driving trucks could help reduce pollution, boost fuel efficiency

PHOTO: Daimler recently tested the world’s first autonomous truck on a highway in Germany. Credit: Daimler

Autonomous or driverless trucks could change the face of transport in the GCC, according to a recent study by a management consultancy.

Over one million trucks currently operate across the GCC region, with the number increasing by 5-9% each year, said consultancy Strategy& (formerly Booz & Co.).

This growth trend poses significant challenges for the economy and the environment, as GCC countries experience more pollution, road accidents and traffic congestion due to the high volume of trucks plying the roads.

Driverless trucks, however, could hold the key towards solving some of these challenges, Strategy& says.

“GCC countries will benefit from autonomous trucks more than any other region in the world,” said Dr. Ulrich Kögler, Partner with Strategy& in Dubai.

“The technology can reduce fuel costs, dramatically reduce the number and cost of accident, reduce expatriate labour and create high value added technology jobs and firms. By thinking proactively about these issues GCC countries have a real opportunity to become a global leader in an evolving technology.”

READ MORE: Daimler pilots world’s first self-driving truck

Many truck manufacturers have already begun the move towards greater automation, with technologies like automated gearboxes and lane departure warning systems becoming increasingly commonplace. German giant Daimler took the first step towards making fully driverless trucks a reality by recently piloting the world’s first self-driving truck.

Many automobile manufacturers are also looking at autonomous vehicles, and experimental self-driven vehicles such as Google’s driverless cars have accumulated over a million kilometres on US highways since 2011.

Autonomous trucks can offer several advantages over their conventional counterparts, particularly with regards to fuel efficiency and safety.

Some estimates suggest that driverless trucks would increase the efficiency of cargo trucks by 15-20% through computer-optimised acceleration and braking, leading to reduced costs, lower emissions and a smaller environmental footprint.

In addition, autonomous trucks can also create economic and social benefits for the GCC by reducing reliance on expatriate labour and creating new high-value technology jobs, such as software developers, data analysts and programmers, and control centre operators.

A final advantage is safety. Accidents involving heavy trucks account for at least 10% of road fatalities, and cost up to $8 billion per year, according to Strategy& estimates. Next-generation trucks will be able to self-monitor their condition and anticipate technical problems.

According to a recent Financial Times article, driverless trucks will also be able to better handle long-haul journeys, where fatigue can cause drivers to lose concentration.

READ MORE: Daimler pilots world’s first self-driving truck

However, for driverless trucks to be truly viable in the region, legislation will need to keep up, says Fadi Majdalani, Partner with Strategy&. “Policymakers will need to develop a legal framework and regulations that can accommodate and support autonomous vehicles.”

“The region should also start preparing in terms of road infrastructure, and pushing for the development of such technology with manufacturers in order to create the appropriate environment for the introduction of driverless trucks.”

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