Robotic revolution

Game-changing technology hits the field of transportation

There’s a revolution under way in the transportation industry that’s sure to turn your thinking completely upside-down.

For decades, human operators have been responsible for the safe and timely transfer of goods from supplier to consumer. Whether by plane, train or automobile, a person at the controls of a fossil fuel-powered machine transported freight from point A to point B.

But all that is changing as the information age transforms the way we think and work, raising eyebrows as we use new technological achievements to build greater efficiencies while shoring up needs in nearly every industry.

Electric-powered vehicles emerge

Electric cars drove into consumer consciousness in 2008 with mass production of the Tesla Roadster, which runs on rechargeable lithium-ion battery cells. But it wasn’t until late 2016 that a semi-truck was powered by electricity.

Nikola One is an emissions-free vehicle that operates using a 300-kilowatt fuel cell and a 320 kWh battery bank. There is no diesel fuel engine, so the truck is lighter and more compact. It has a 1,000-horsepower powertrain and generates 2,000 foot-pounds of torque.

Nikola One can travel 800-plus miles carrying a load of 65,000 pounds without stopping at a hydrogen fueling station, and even then it requires only a 15-minute fill-up. The vehicle’s fuel efficiency is designed to exceed all EPA greenhouse gas mandates for the next decade.

While this prospect is exciting, the challenge is to build the necessary cell refueling stations at a cost of $10 million each — a huge investment in addition to the need to acquire land for each station.

Self-driving trucks in view

Another incredible innovation comes from Starsky Robotics: a self-driving truck controlled using software, radar and computer cameras for over-the-road long hauls. An experienced driver, working remotely from an office, controls the truck from the exit ramp to the final delivery.

Starsky developed an aftermarket kit of robotic controls that push pedals, change gears and turn the steering wheel. The remote drivers can monitor several trucks at once, and take control of a truck if necessary.

This innovation comes at a time when there is a serious driver shortage. Approximately 75,000 truck drivers are needed in the U.S.

Platooning trucks

Fleets are exploring platooning technology as a means of saving money and resources. Platoons consist of a lead truck connected wirelessly to subsequent trucks. A cloud-based operations center networks with the trucks using cellular and WiFi, and the trucks are equipped with state-of-the-art driving support systems.

The operations center manages and supervises the platoons, keeping them in safe conditions on specific highways. The lead driver monitors the driving environment and maintains steering, acceleration and braking.

Using electronic coupling, platoons maintain a specified distance between each vehicle, and allow several vehicles to simultaneously accelerate and brake. Platooning can save the rear truck up to 10 percent on fuel by decreasing wind draft, lowering fuel consumption and reducing CO2 emissions. You may see a platoon on the highways by the end of this year.

These and other revolutionary approaches to freight transport may arrive at your loading dock very soon. As the rapid influx of new technology touching nearly every sector of business rises, so too will your expectations for efficient cargo pickup and delivery.

Both of Michael Jarrett’s companies, Jarrett Logistics Systems and PackShip USA, have won numerous awards, including the Weatherhead 100, Cascade Capital Growth Award, Inc. 500/5000, The Entrepreneurial Edge Award and NEO Success Award.