Autonomous trucking likely to be more energy efficient, new research says

A new white paper from autonomous technology firm Aurora Innovation examines how the cutting edge innovation could reshape the trucking industry and positively affect energy efficiency. 

By using fuel sources more efficiently, autonomous technology could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. The paper looks at the factors influencing energy usage and delves into the specific opportunities and obstacles for autonomous trucking, and it introduces an integrated model for estimating the potential energy savings of a standard over-the-road tractor-trailer in the United States.

The potential benefits

  • Autonomous trucks, exempt from hours-of-service regulations, diminish the need to drive at high speeds for quicker arrivals. Consequently, driving at lower speeds reduces fuel consumption per mile. Adopting Aurora’s strategy of maintaining a speed of 65 mph rather than 70-75 mph could potentially decrease highway fuel usage by 9%-17%.
  • Trucks frequently use fuel while idling during driver breaks for rest, meals, or downtime between hauls, accounting for 4%-9% of fuel consumption. Although autonomous trucks cannot eradicate idling entirely, they could optimize driving time more effectively.
  • A large amount of energy is expended due to ineffective acceleration and braking. Autonomous trucks have the capacity for eco-driving, which involves strategically optimizing acceleration, braking, and coasting to enhance energy efficiency and lower fuel consumption. Referencing a study highlighted in the white paper, it was discovered that implementing more strategic coasting could result in fuel savings of up to 9.5%.
  • Autonomous trucks have the capability to operate almost continuously throughout the day, allowing them to transition more freight transportation to off-peak hours. This shift not only lowers the fuel consumption of autonomous trucks by reducing time spent in traffic but also aids in alleviating congestion and decreasing fuel usage for other vehicles.

Furthermore, the white paper also suggests that the adoption of autonomous trucks could pave the way for accelerated adoption of next-generation powertrains. 

“As autonomous trucks make hauling freight safer, we have a responsibility to make logistics more sustainable as well. Self-driving technology can fight climate change by increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions in the supply chain,” paper author Garrett Bray said.

The view from Arizona

Arizona has become a hub for the testing of autonomous passenger and heavy-duty vehicles, which the head of the Arizona Manufacturers Council said enhances the state’s competitive standing for advanced manufacturing.

“Arizona is a leader in the research, development, and manufacture of next generation automotives, whether they’re autonomous, electric, or alternative fuel,” AMC Executive Director Grace Appelbe said. “The innovations in the heavy-duty truck space are especially exciting because they not only attract new job-creating talent to Arizona, but they also are likely to have an immediate positive effect on our supply chain and logistics sector, which further enhances the state’s economic competitiveness.”

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