Autonomous Trucks Vol. 2: Two Infrastructure Changes You Haven’t Considered.

Most discussions around autonomous vehicles focus on cars that move people from A to B, but when you consider the benefits of automating truck travel, automating systems for tracking product and the infrastructure necessary to support autonomous freight transit, the idea of autonomous cars quickly becomes secondary.

Most commercial cargo traveling less than 500-600 miles is transported using trucks.  As autonomous truck traffic comes online, there is no doubt we will see major shifts throughout the infrastructure of our current freight transit system.  I’ve identified two of those areas below that make for a good second installment in this series.  Here’s a link to the first installment, Autonomous Trucks: Smokey and the Bandit are Dying, where the discussion began.

The “Cross-border Express Lane” – Trucks will be taken out of normal cross-border traffic

One of transportation’s biggest issues is the lack of a system for handling high volume traffic between delivery points less than 600 miles apart.  Rail systems work well for high volume, but tend to be more efficient for distances over 600 miles.

Cross-border commercial traffic is required to go through customs before it can cross into the US from Canada or Mexico.  However, the process is arduous and time consuming.

The time it takes to pass through customs for commercial traffic can vary greatly depending on time of day, the number of customs agents on staff and the type of product being transported.  FSS, developed by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, could be a viable solution. See the concept illustration below.


The FSS consists of automated transporters, an elevated guideway, high-efficiency terminals, and a communications, command and control (C3) system that effectively manages shipments in facilities and in transit.


Below is an illustration of what FSS’s Cross-Border Express system model would look like.  Shipments would be scanned by each country using RFID as they cross the border via secure rail system. Passing product through a closed system like this would be much more secure and therefore easier to expedite product across borders.


Click here to see the Freight Shuttle System (FSS) Fact Sheet  – As you can see, the transporter is fixed to the system itself, providing automated delivery of freight over shorter distances using less emissions and eliminating truck congestion.

Below is an actual prototype that has been developed by FSS.


Internet of Things (IoT) – Smart infrastructure should begin with roads, smart roads

The condition of our roadways in the US is subpar.  In 2017 for the 30th straight year, the United States received a “D” according to the ASCE infrastructure report 2017. In order to adequately and effectively facilitate autonomous vehicles, we need a viable foundation to support our transit system.  Roads, I’m talking about smart roads.

What if the road could communicate directly with your autonomous vehicle and send real time data to emergency and maintenance services?  What if trucks could work with roads to calculate truck weight real time and eliminate weigh stations all together?

These things are all possible with Smart Pavement.  Integrated Roadways  has developed and is currently installing “Smart Pavement,” in order to demonstrate its capabilities as the future network and transportation infrastructure for the mobile Internet of Things (IoT).  Smart Pavement integrated with IoT could be applied to trailer storage lots, weigh stations, warehouse flooring, pick & pack processes, manufacturing etc…, creating an endless network of information in real time.  The possibilities are endless.

The founder and CEO of Integrated Roadways, Tim Sylvester, had this to say in his recent article titled, Roads are the Biggest Investment Opportunity in the World Today.

“Nationwide, our transportation infrastructure authorities are seriously hamstrung. CalTrans says they need to spend about $60b on projects beyond their current budget. The Missouri Department of Transportation has seen its budget collapse from about $1.4b in 2007 to about $325m projected in 2017. “Pshaw, it’s Missouri, who cares?” You care, or you should. We’re not “flyover country”, we’re “food making country”. I-70 across Missouri is a major transportation and distribution link, and Kansas City at the west end is a major distribution hub. No matter where you live in the USA, at least some of your food comes from Missouri, or comes through Missouri. And yet I-70 across Missouri has languished — built in 1965 as the very first interstate in the Eisenhower system, but now 25 years past its rebuild life. I-70’s problems don’t reflect Missouri’s problems, I-70’s problems reflect America’s problems in a nutshell.” – Click here to follow Tim on Medium


To Tim’s point, a lot has to change with our roadways and general infrastructure before we can begin to see the major benefits of an autonomous freight transit system.  I expect incorporating a more durable roadway that also provides a strong foundation for IoT within our transit systems is a great place to start.  Leveraging roadways that can even generate income through IoT integration makes it possible to alleviate state and budgetary limitations regarding roadway development and maintenance.

Other things to consider:

What happens when the road you’re on knows who you are and what you’re looking at on your smart phone?

What happens to truck stops and their surrounding communities when autonomous trucks begin to drive 24/7 without stops?

What will a “truck driver” job description resemble in 10 years?  20 years?

How will truck driver compensation change as the driving risk shifts from the person to the computer?

Thanks for reading!  Let’s keep the conversation going.  Please post your comments and let me know what you think.


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