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Autonomous Fleet Management of Electric Semi-Trucks

Driverless electric trucks will require new autonomous fleet management software - a fact that OEMs can't ignore

March 31, 2022

9 mins read

Did you know that trucks carry about 70% of all goods in the US, which makes around $719 billion in revenue? Fleet management for trucks is a vital component of efficient logistics, and innovative truck fleet management software becomes a must-have with highly automated trucks ready to hit the roads.

At the same time, the industry experiences a tremendous shortage of truck drivers: in 2017, the turnover reached 90%. The job is physically inert and psychologically exhausting. Trips may take up to months, not to mention the stress of being responsible for tons of goods worth thousands of dollars. The field of logistics needs some serious revision and enhancement. Perhaps, specific revolutionary changes can revive the industry? Elon Musk has a plan.

Autonomous Fleet Management of Electric Semi-Trucks


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Tesla – a pioneer in semi-automated trucks

Autonomous Fleet Management of Electric Semi-Trucks

While everyone is still hyped about the electric sports car flying towards Mars and the futuristic Solar City, we would like to talk about Tesla’s more practical invention – an autonomous semi-truck presented in November 2017. Tesla’s Semi is a brand-new Class 8 electric truck that can go about 500 miles on a single battery charge (fully loaded) and accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (100 km/h) in 20 seconds. Semi has four electric motors of the Tesla Model 3 type, two for each drive axle. A driver seat is at the center for maximum visibility, surrounded by armor glass and two screens on both sides of the wheel. Due to its independent motors, Semi also offers rollover protection thanks to the low center of gravity and no jackknifing.

But, of course, Tesla wouldn’t be Tesla without the cool technological features included into their truck. Semi can boast an enhanced Autopilot that keeps and automatically changes lanes, matches speed to traffic conditions, warns about the possibility of collision and urgently brakes the vehicle in extreme situations. In case of a medical emergency, Tesla autonomous trucks will stay in the lane and gradually come to a stop. It can even call 911 for the driver if the person is not responding. Elon Musk says it is a massive safety increase for everyone: truck drivers, pedestrians, and people in other cars on the road. As you can imagine, autonomous fleets of such vehicles can be ten times safer than the ones that human drivers can only operate.

Many big players feel optimistic about the Tesla autonomous Semi truck. They have already made pre-orders on the Tesla electric truck and are ready to use it with other fleet management self-driving cars solutions. Check out the list: Pepsi, Walmart, Anheuser-Busch, Sysco, UPS, Meijer, Ryder and others have reserved from 1 to 125 Semis. It sounds like a promising long-term perspective for highly autonomous fleet management, doesn’t it?

Electric truck manufacturers take the stage

Autonomous Fleet Management of Electric Semi-Trucks

Automation and electrification are two tendencies that characterize the state of the automotive industry today. It’s not surprising since electric vehicles have fewer moving parts and are easier for computers to control. This brings new challenges to car manufacturers as well as software development companies.

Tesla is undoubtedly the most famous name in the industry, but it is not the single company on the market for autonomous electric trucks. Two years ago, Mercedes saved about 64% of operating costs with its fleet of eight Fuso Canter E-Cell electric trucks. TransPower, a California-based company, provides adapted semi-trucks to large corporations like IKEA, SA Recycling, and Dole Fresh Fruits. The only problem is the battery life: all fleets can operate eight to ten hours a day and then need to be recharged.

Waymo tries to keep up with Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving trucks and plans to test a fleet management system for autonomous vehicles in Arizona and Shanghai this year. Another company, Starsky Robotics, builds small robots that can physically control some truck mechanisms. This adds autonomous capabilities to a vehicle but leaves the remote control to the driver. The company has received $3.75 million in investments since it started the project in 2015.

To meet the market demand, prominent software vendors and automotive startups turn their attention to the fleet management of self-driving cars and planning systems. However, they shouldn’t ignore the possibility of driverless or at least semi-autonomous truck fleets becoming a widespread reality and needing advanced software to lead them. At the same time, if we can expect a wide range of fleet management applications for traditional heavy trucks, few transportation companies are ready to embrace the utterly driverless future.

What’s on the fleet management for autonomous vehicles market?

Autonomous Fleet Management of Electric Semi-Trucks

If your company owns a single truck, you will probably be fine not using any specific software. And sure, you can monitor every truck if you have three of them. But it would be tough to manage a big, successful transportation business without proper transportation and logistics applications. Scheduling, route planning, tracking, communication, maintenance, and so on are the perfect tasks for various fleet management software apps.

The basic functionality any fleet management software needs includes:

  • Scheduling to know when a truck or the whole fleet has to depart from point А to reach point B on time, how long it will take, and when the drivers can have a break.
  • Localization to know where the trucks are on the route and when they suddenly deviate or detour. It also helps to define the location of every truck separately since sometimes a fleet can split due to road accidents or other conditions.
  • Route planning to determine the fastest, most secure, or cheapest way to reach the destination and show where the fleet can stop for fuel (an app can show specific stations or fuel prices) or the location of the nearest truck parking.
  • Predictive maintenance to record the vehicles that will need an upgrade or fixing based on data like mileage, engine hours, or diagnostic trouble codes, and track the repair statistics.
  • IFTA compliance to facilitate taxing. The software can help track border crossing or state entering, summarize miles covered and fuel purchased in every state, or upload fuel receipts for further filing. This is how IFTA works in the US and Canada: a truck gets a fuel tax permit from one state, and when it drives through the participating states or provinces, the fuel tax is credited to the owner’s account. Every quarter the owner pays a general sum according to the miles traveled and the fuel used in each region.
  • Load optimization to calculate the best cargo weight for every truck, optimize the number of vehicles in a fleet and compare the actual load with the allowed weight throughout the planned route.
  • Safety features like preventing distractions behind the wheel by blocking calls, sending auto-replies, or reading emails out loud. The software can also help by checking compliance with corporate driving policies, tracking the entire time the person has been driving and their vitals, targeting poor driving behavior, and more.

The market offers many apps that help with tasks related to fleet management for autonomous vehicles. They can track vehicle and driver statistics, provide maintenance records and fuel stats, plan and optimize the route, even monitor and determine high-risk drivers. There are also Uber-like apps for truckers. However, few to none applications combine all the features for overall coverage. Right now, drivers and companies usually have to mix and integrate different truck management software to cover everything.

Autonomous fleet vehicles can partially solve the problem since many essential functions will already be integrated into the vehicle itself. Both the driver and the manager will be able to delegate part of their work to the AI.

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The top challenges for fleet managers integrating autonomous vehicles

Price tag

Buying autonomous fleet vehicles is no walk-in-the-park when it comes to the cost and is much more significant than a regular vehicle. Besides the actual price of the vehicle itself, you are also paying for the sophisticated AI technologiesinstalled in the vehicle. But just like with any new cutting-edge technology, its cost eventually does go down with time. However, the industry’s progress is limited due to the initial investment that fleet managers need to make when buying a vehicle like an autonomous semi-truck.

Cost of maintenance

Traditionally, any vehicle maintenance expenses can be roughly calculated, and even specific wear and tear damages can be predicted in advance. But when dealing with new technologies that an autonomous semi-truck has, it can be a lot harder to predict what will be the cost of software updates. On top of that, finding the right experts for the job can be a difficult task that can potentially have a different cost.

Cyber security

When dealing with any technology that performs high computing tasks, like the one in autonomous fleet vehicles, you are collecting extensive amounts of data. Such data holds both commercial and technological value as it aids in further software development progress. But just like anything of value, the collected data becomes a target. This adds the cyber security element for fleet managers to consider when switching to autonomous vehicles.

The Top Benefits for Fleet Managers Integrating Autonomous Vehicles

Low accident rate

It’s widely known that humans are prone to error. But humans design and develop fantastic technology that gets rid of those errors. An autopilot semi-truck does not get distracted by something in the distance. On the contrary, it performs sophisticated calculations on what is ahead and if preventive measures need to be taken. This simple fact leads to a significantly lower accident rate among autonomous fleet vehicles.

High productivity rate

In a recent podcast appearance, Elon Musk stated that Tesla semi-autonomous driving capabilities would reach level 4 in 2022. This means that a fully autonomous vehicle of that level will only need a driver to be behind the steering wheel, simply overseeing the journey without doing any actual driving. Such progress in this technology means that the driver will be able to multitask and merely be more productive.

Low operating costs

Transforming a fully functional regular fleet to an autonomous one will result in significant expenses. Furthermore, you are almost guaranteed to run into countless day-to-day challenges that will eventually be avoided with experience. But these challenges by far do not outweigh the low operational costs that fleet managers will have. With a lower accident rate and reduced damages caused by inconsistent driving habits, it is much more viable to have an autonomous fleet in the long run.

Truck fleet innovations you can see now

Autonomous Fleet Management of Electric Semi-Trucks

Ten million cars with self-driving features will hit the road by 2020. The truck fleet management industry is becoming one of the pioneering adopters of autonomous technology. And while some IT companies are still contemplating the new tendencies that power autopilot semi-trucks, others are already working at full speed – somebody has to meet the growing demand for autonomous vehicle software. For example, companies like Peloton improve the safety of truck platoons right now by implementing collision mitigation systems, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and a cloud-based operations center.

Video software for truck fleet management is also embracing innovations. Fleet camera systems can monitor real-time processes in and around the truck, operating even in low light conditions. A network video recorder can access the real-time and recorded video and send event-based alerts from the vehicle. Its blind spot detection system uses lasers, radars, and high-resolution cameras to monitor the space around the car and alert the driver about any movement in the blind spot area.

When discussing the impact of autonomous drive technology on fleet management, vehicle telematics and location-based services are among the most popular technical improvements for truck fleets. It can decrease fuel expenses by improving route efficiency, monitoring driver’s behavior, and predicting vehicle breakdown. In general, telematics can tremendously increase the efficiency of annual planning, optimize work processes and provide a higher quality of service both to employees and customers.

And there is one more important detail that is often overlooked but will influence the industry – the generational shift. Shortly, millennials will take up truck driving. The young professionals will quickly learn and use technology for everyday tasks, so businesses can feel free to introduce more technical innovations to their processes.

Truck fleet software trends like autonomous car technology, V2V communication, Big Data, MaaS are already being implemented. Most of the first experiences with driverless vehicles will be in the form of Class 8 heavy trucks instead of autonomous taxis.

Truck manufacturers and big fleet management companies should be able to see the opportunities in these trends and look for ways to leverage technology and data to optimize their daily operations. It would be wise to seek vendors with enough expertise in developing solutions for autonomous vehicles – car-to-car communication, machine learning algorithms, real-time navigation, etc.

If that’s what you need at the moment, consider Intellias – an automotive software provider that works with Tier 1 vendors and OEMs from Europe, Japan and South Korea. If you plan to join the autonomous driving ecosystem, feel free to contact our experts anytime.

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Frequently asked questions about autonomous trucks and fleet management

How many levels of autonomy do AVs have?
The Society of Automotive Engineers, a leading force behind setting engineering standards, officially lists six levels of autonomy for AV. From levels 0 to 5, each varies in its technology. The most advanced level has absolute autonomous driving capabilities thanks to big data processing capabilities. However, since regulations are still being drafted for the most advanced AVs, they are not yet on the market, and most fleet managements are connected with level 2-3 AVs.
What will be the leading factor to push the mass adoption of autonomous trucks?
The global labor force has dramatically changed with the technological advancements of the last few decades. This change resulted in shortages of certain professions, including truck drivers. For example, in the US alone, in 2022, there is a shortage of 89 thousand truck divers. This challenge creates obstacles to a smooth international supply chain but equally pushes innovation among engineers and policymakers to ease the mass adoption of autonomous trucks.
How can analytical insights help with autonomous fleet management?
Countless companies develop analytical tools with API capabilities and follow the best industry standards of UI/UX design. Such tools allow real-time data that guides you in making better decisions such as following load pickup location and time, better route planning, setting a more favorable transportation rate, etc. All of this is possible on the go since most of the tools can be developed as custom mobile software.

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