New report says the future of road transport defined by automation
In the face of geopolitical and economic uncertainty, technology-driven innovation will be key to meeting the challenges of tomorrow in the road transport sector, according to a survey published today by the world transport organization, IRU.
The global snapshot survey, which is based on interview data from 450 transport companies across Europe, the GCC, and Asia, reveals that most (57%) transport companies in Europe, Asia, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) view geopolitical uncertainty as the biggest threat to their development. (The GCC is made up of six states in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates; transport companies from these countries, excluding Oman, were respondents to the IRU study.) Threats range from escalating international trade wars to growing concerns around Brexit. The risk of global recession and the challenge of keeping up with changing customer demand are jointly seen as the second biggest threats to transport companies at 52%.
Furthermore, technology and innovation were noted as key to overcoming challenges and securing the future of the industry—more than three quarters (76%) of transport companies surveyed expect autonomous trucks to become a viable option on the roads within the next decade.
Umberto de Pretto, IRU’s Secretary General, commented, “The global transport system touches the lives of each of the planet’s seven billion people, from the food we eat to the consumer goods we buy. So it’s perhaps not surprising that many of the issues facing society today are also considered by transport companies to be their biggest challenges. These include some of the main themes that dominate the international agenda, including geopolitics, trade, and the environment.”
Transport companies recognize that developments in technology and innovation will be key to building a safe, successful, and sustainable industry in the future. One in three (33%) transport companies across every region believe that improving safety will be the biggest innovation opportunity, while one in five cite automation.
In fact, transport companies are extremely optimistic about the timescales for automation—more than three quarters (76%) of transport companies expect autonomous trucks to become a viable option within the next decade; of these, 29% believe they will be a reality on our roads in the next five years. Transport companies believe the primary benefit of automation will be boosting productivity (50%), followed by helping to cut costs (19%).
Barriers to adopting technology persist—with transport companies citing the major challenges to adopting technology driven innovation as cost and investment (71%), followed by a limited understanding of the range of emerging technologies available (50%).
This suggests that pockets of the industry have yet to embrace new technologies and processes, and that there is still work to do to fix the digital foundations of the industry before technology-driven innovation can be optimized properly.
Similarly, while many transport companies believe autonomous trucks are just around the corner, the reality is that there is still some way to go before they become a safe, secure, and sustainable option on our roads.
While the technology itself is becoming ever more sophisticated, there is a risk that it will be held back by the lack of necessary investment in infrastructure.
Boris Blanche, IRU’s Managing Director, commented, “There is no question that autonomous trucks will eventually be transformative for the industry—helping boost productivity, create efficiencies, and enhance driver working conditions. But drivers will not become obsolete any time in the future, and in fact the industry must continue to encourage more drivers into the profession. Proper and responsible adoption over time is required, and we must see full cooperation from all industry stakeholders.”
Umberto de Pretto noted, “For technology to take hold, and for the industry to truly benefit from it, we must ensure we have the foundations in place. This means first getting the basics right, such as full transitioning to digital documentation, improving traceability, security, and efficiency. We must work harder to join the dots between operators, service providers, manufacturers, and governments to nurture a supportive environment for innovation and digitization.”
He added, “We must also push for legislation and policies that encourage all operators to invest in the technology needed to make these innovations the norm.”