Autonomous truck study predicts major fuel savings

A new report by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical and analytical agency within the US Department of Energy, has found that autonomous technology could deliver fuel economy increases as early as this year.

According to the report, vehicles equipped for assisted-platooning technology could almost instantly result in fuel savings for the industry, with 4.5 per cent increases possible by 2030 and 13.9 per cent by 2040, and 18.6 per cent by 2050 “due to Level 1-3 technology alone” (see background below).

The report noted, however, that it is also likely that as autonomous technology increased overall vehicle safety and reduced accidents, speed limits may increase to around 80 mph (ca. 130 km/h), which could reduce the predicted fuel economy numbers somewhat.

The report also found that most insurance industry executives in the US currently do not believe autonomous technology will have an impact on their businesses in the short term.

“Despite an apparently clear awareness that a significant impact on the insurance business is looming and that automated driving safety features are indeed helping to reduce insurance claims, … survey respondents do not plan to address the impact of driverless vehicles over the next 12–18 months,” the report said.

Another finding was that 94 per cent of respondents expect liability to change, while 52 per cent expect property damage coverage to change. Additionally, 84 per cent of respondents expect insurance claim frequency to decrease, and 71 per cent expect premium per policy to decrease because of driverless vehicles.

The full report can be found here.

Background:

According to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the autonomy of a vehicle can be measured on a scale from 0-5, with level 5 describing full autonomy.

  • At level 0, a human is in full control of steering, brakes, throttle, and power output.
  • Driver-assistance level 1 means that while most functions are still controlled by a person, a specific function – such as steering or accelerating – can be handled automatically by the vehicle.
  • At level 2, at least one driver assistance system of “both steering and acceleration/ deceleration using information about the driving environment” is automated, such as cruise control or lane-centring. The driver is “disengaged from physically operating the vehicle by having his or her hands off the steering wheel and feet off the pedals at the same time,” according to the SAE.
  • Freightliner's Inspiration truck, unveiled in 2015, was a level 3 autonomous vehicle. Here, drivers are still necessary, but able to completely shift safety-critical functions to the machine if traffic or environmental conditions allow. The driver is still present and will intervene if necessary.
  • Level 4 is what is typically meant by ‘fully autonomous’ – the vehicle is able to perform all safety-critical driving functions itself and monitor road conditions for an entire trip.
  • However, only the behaviour of level 5 vehicles is expected to equal that of a human driver in every driving scenario – including extreme environments like dirt roads, for example.

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