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Self-Driving Systems Present Opportunities and Challenges for Fleets Today, Not Just in the Future

In early February, I moderated a panel of OEM reps from Ford Motor Co. and Daimler Trucks North America on the topic of “Connectivity, Autonomy and the Future of Mobility in Fleet” at the Washington, D.C. Auto Show. As I reflected on our discussion, this was my biggest takeaway: The emergence of self-driving systems is not just a trend to watch in the next five to 10 years; there’s a lot going on right now that utility fleets should be thinking about.

For example, the new 2018 Ford F-150 pickup, expected to go on sale this fall, will feature an available Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Warning system and an advanced adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality that uses radars and cameras to maintain a set distance behind a vehicle – and even follow that vehicle down to a complete stop.

Then there’s the new 2018 Freightliner Class 8 Cascadia, set to release this summer, which offers a full suite of semiautonomous technologies, including adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation with automatic braking. But perhaps the most interesting system is the fourth-generation Intelligent Powertrain Management that’s available on models equipped with Detroit Diesel powertrains. It operates like a predictive cruise control system, using GPS connectivity that enables the truck to anticipate upcoming road terrain and automatically adjust transmission shifting, engine acceleration and braking in a way that maximizes fuel economy as the vehicle approaches each hill, climbs it and coasts on the other side.

The bottom line is that, on some level, autonomous vehicles are already here – from cars and light-duty pickups all the way up to Class 8 tractors. But I’m curious: How are these developments impacting your fleet operations today?

Now that more and more OEMs are offering semiautonomous systems as factory options, does this mean that you should automatically spec those technologies in the name of safety? Or, is the upfront cost to include those options still too steep for the budget?

What are your company’s policies when it comes to operating vehicles with self-driving capabilities? If a driver gets annoyed with the beeps or vibration alerts on the truck’s collision mitigation system and decides to disable it, how is that issue addressed? If a crash occurs after the system was disabled, what does that mean for your company’s risk exposure?

While fully self-driving vehicles are likely a decade away, now is the time to think through the opportunities and challenges of autonomy and develop best practices that help you navigate your fleet in this brave new self-driving world.

Share your thoughts, ideas and experiences with me at [email protected].

Sean M. Lyden


Sean M. Lyden

Sean M. Lyden is the editor of Utility Fleet Professional magazine.