A wide ranging research project by the International Road Union has concluded technology and automation will define the future of road transport in Europe and across Asia, but significant obstacles stand in the way.
The global snapshot survey is based on interview data from 450 transport companies across Asia and Europe. Technology and innovation are key to overcoming challenges and securing the future of the industry, 77 per cent of Asian transport companies surveyed expect autonomous trucks to become a viable option on the roads within the next decade.
“The global transport system touches the lives of each of the planet’s seven billion people, from the food we eat to the consumer goods we buy,” said Umberto de Pretto, IRU’s Secretary General. “So it’s perhaps not surprising that many of the issues facing society today are also considered by transport companies to be their biggest challenges. These include some of the main themes that dominate the international agenda, including geopolitics, trade and the environment.”
Transport companies recognise that developments in technology and innovation will be key to building a safe, successful and sustainable industry in the future. One in three (33 per cent) transport companies across every region believe that improving safety will be the biggest innovation opportunity, while one in five cite automation.
In fact, transport companies are extremely optimistic about the timescales for automation – over three quarters (77 per cent) of transport companies expect autonomous trucks to become a viable option within the next decade; of these, 31 per cent, believe they will be a reality on our roads in the next five years. Worldwide, transport companies believe the primary benefit of automation will be boosting productivity (50 per cent), followed by helping to cut costs (19 per cent).
Transport companies across all regions surveyed consider safe driving technology as the biggest innovation opportunity, one in three (33 per cent) transport companies named it as the top priority. There are a number of technologies that will enhance road safety, and these will vary from region to region. They include everything from fairly well established systems like electronic stability programmes (ESP) or anti-lock braking system (ABS), to cutting edge technologies like radar systems to allow communications between vehicles.
With 85 per cent of all accidents being caused by human error, there is also huge potential for assisted driving technologies to help drivers avoid accidents and improve safety on the roads. For one in five (21 per cent) transport companies globally, automation and telematics are the biggest innovation opportunities for world transport.
Automation encompasses the full spectrum, from driving assisted systems to fully driverless trucks. Telematics in transport provides opportunities to improve in an array of areas, including better fleet management to optimise operations.
Breaking through the road blocks to digitisation
Barriers to adopting technology persist, with transport companies citing the major challenges to adopting technology driven innovation as cost and investment (71 per cent), followed by a limited understanding of the range of emerging technologies available (50 per cent).
This suggests that pockets of the industry have yet to embrace new technologies and processes, and that there is still work to do to fix the digital foundations of the industry before technology-driven innovation can be optimised properly.
Gearing up for automation
Similarly, while many transport companies believe autonomous trucks are just around the corner, the reality is that there is still some way to go before they become a safe, secure and sustainable option on our roads.
While the technology itself is becoming ever more sophisticated, there is a risk that it will be held back by the lack of necessary investment in infrastructure.
“There is no question that autonomous trucks will eventually be transformative for the industry, helping boost productivity, create efficiencies and enhance driver working conditions,” said Boris Blanche, IRU’s Managing Director. “But drivers will not become obsolete any time in the future, and in fact the industry must continue to encourage more drivers into the profession. Proper and responsible adoption over time is required, and we must see full cooperation from all industry stakeholders.”