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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

Updated: August 28, 2023 7 mins read Published: March 31, 2022

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 at a time, not to mention the stress of being responsible for tons of goods worth thousands of dollars. Evidently, the field of logistics needs some serious revision and enhancement. Perhaps, certain revolutionary changes can revive the industry? Elon Musk has a plan.

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Tesla – a pioneer in semi-automated trucks

Autonomous Fleet Management of Electric Semi-Trucks

While everyone is still hyped about an electric sports car flying towards Mars and the futuristic Solar City, we would like to talk about Tesla’s more practical invention – a semi-automatic 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. Semi also offers rollover protection thanks to the low center of gravity and no jackknifing due to its independent motors.

But, of course, Tesla wouldn’t be Tesla without the cool technological features it 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 medical emergency, Semi 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, a fleet of such vehicles can be ten times safer than the ones that can only be operated by human drivers.

A lot of big players feel optimistic about Semi and have already made their pre-orders on the Tesla electric truck and 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. 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 less 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 popular name in the industry but it is definitely not the single company on the market of semi-autonomous electric trucks. Two years ago, Mercedes succeeded in saving 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 such large corporations as IKEA, SA Recycling, and Dole Fresh Fruits. The only problem is the battery life: all of those fleets can operate eight to ten hours a day and then need to be recharged.

Waymo tries to keep up with Tesla in terms of self-driving electric vehicles 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 mechanisms of the truck. This adds autonomous capabilities to a vehicle but leaves the remote control to the driver. By the way, the company has received $3.75 million in investments since they started the project in 2015.

Trying to meet the market demand, big software vendors and automotive startups turn their attention to the fleet management of self-driving cars and planning systems. They shouldn’t, however, 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 completely 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 very difficult 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 much time it will take and when the drivers can have a break.
  • Localization to know where exactly 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 as well as 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 keep a record of the vehicles that will need an upgrade or fixing soon 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 account of the owner. Every quarter the owner pays a general sum according to the miles traveled and 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 a bunch of vehicle fleet management apps. 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 semi-trucks can partially solve the problem since many essential functions will already be integrated into the vehicle. Both the driver and the manager will be able to delegate part of their work to the AI.

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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. It seems like the truck fleet management industry is becoming one of the pioneering adopters of the autonomous technology. And while some IT companies are still contemplating the new tendencies, others are already working at full speed – somebody has to meet the growing demand for the 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 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.

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, monitor driver’s behavior and predict vehicle’s 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 significant detail that is often overlooked but will definitely influence the industry – the generational shift. In the near future, 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 the autonomous car technology, V2V communication, Big Data, MaaS are already being implemented. It looks like 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 for them to seek vendors that have 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.

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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