While self-driving cars, like recent offerings from Tesla, GM, Waymo and the like, are getting all the headlines, the autonomous vehicles most likely to be ready for prime time soon are autonomous trucks. That’s right—within a few years, you could be driving down the highway next to a fully automated tractor-trailer, or one that’s part of a caravan of trucks driven by one person at the front.
Of course, self-driving vehicles carry major implications for determining liability, dealing with accidents, and other legal and safety concerns. In fact, safety and legality are two of the top issues keeping self-driving trucks from the following companies off the road.
Based in San Francisco, Embark aims to automate trucks on the highway, enabling local drivers to drop their loads off at rest stops and taking over for local deliveries, where traffic is more complex. This would allow drivers to stay local, avoiding the arduous cross-country drives that truck drivers are now required to do, allowing them to stay closer to their families and work more usual hours.
Embark’s already used its technology to drive a truck across the country, through bad weather, highway transfers, and traffic, and all without any human help. They are also working with Amazon for autonomous deliveries of their massive amounts of packages, reducing their reliance on human drivers.
Embark currently retrofits its self-driving tech to Peterbuilt trucks, and runs a fleet of about a dozen trucks that’s already generating revenue.
One of the first automotive companies on the market, Daimler—parent company of Mercedes-Benz—has also been experimenting with autonomous trucks for quite some time. The Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 uses Highway Pilot, a system that lets the truck drive on highways without any driver assistance.
The trucks by Daimler use a strategy called platooning to save fuel on cross-country journeys. While in a platoon, trucks drive closely behind one another, cutting down on drag and saving up to 10% of their fuel. As of now, each truck still has a driver for off-highway driving, but Daimler hopes to offer “highly automated driving” within a decade.
Swedish company Einride builds its own electric trucks without any cab or controls whatsoever, so they’re going all-in on their self-driving tech. For safety, the trucks can still be monitored and remote-controlled by an operator.
Why remove the cab? It can reduce costs by up to 60% over a conventional truck, claims the company, which is huge in an increasingly-competitive market.
Einride says they’ve signed “large US-based retail companies” for their trucks, but have yet to reveal just who those companies are. It now brands itself as a “freight mobility operating system” company.
Alphabet’s (né Google) autonomous car company, Waymo, has been carrying passengers with its taxi service in Phoenix since 2019. It announced its plans to test autonomous trucks beginning in New Mexico and Texas in 2020. While details are still scarce, Google is known for its disruptive technological innovations.
Swedish scion of safety, Volvo, unveiled its semi-automatic platoon system in 2016. In this system, the lead truck controls the speed and braking of all three trucks in the platoon, which saves time as they all move as one vehicle.
Volvo partnered with shipping giant FedEx in 2018, and is currently prototyping the Vera, a fully autonomous truck without a cab whatsoever. Volvo’s reputation for safety is sure to be an asset in this nascent space.
Risks of Self-driving Trucks
Of course, every new technology comes with its risks. Self-driving vehicles may be smart, but even the calmest roads can become chaotic at the drop of a hat, and navigating the busy Interstates is a tough challenge, even for seasoned drivers. It’s only a matter of time until an autonomous truck wrecks into a passenger car, and then a number of legal questions arise:
- Who is legally liable for an autonomous truck wreck?
- What damages should be awarded, and to whom, in the event of a crash?
- If the truck runs off the road and damages property, who should be involved in a lawsuit then?
- and more
No matter what the future holds, you need a truck wreck lawyer who has experience with self driving vehicles who’s ready to face it with you. Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys has decades of experience representing victims of truck wrecks throughout Louisiana, and we’ll be on the forefront of litigating autonomous wrecks, too.