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Top 5 Technologies Revolutionizing Innovation in Trucking


Innovations in Trucking Article Cover Picture

Autonomous and electric vehicles, platooning, big data, integrated logistics technology: trucking innovation is already moving the industry forward. Smart solutions have inherently changed how goods are transported worldwide with analytics creating a more efficient supply chain — and the industry knows it. A shift from “paperless” to “clickless” interfaces, cutting manual data input time, allows dispatchers to be far more efficient, managing up to 50 to 100 vehicles per operator instead of just 10 to 15, Wialon reported.

And why wouldn’t big data and innovation be changing the game? Scania, Kuehne + Nagel, and Geodis — some of the world’s largest companies are already integrating tech-driven and data-backed solutions to make their logistics as efficient as possible.

The same technologies can improve how trucking companies deliver goods and good service, and it is not only about speed — labor and financial challenges are also being resolved. Over half of 108 carriers and brokers surveyed found hiring and retention to be a top challenge in 2023; this includes not only drivers but sales and back-office, too. Top service performance and better communication with existing customers are priorities to ride out the challenge.

Let’s take a look at five technology and innovation trends that are disrupting the trucking industry and enhancing performance:

Alternative fuel vehicles leading the innovation in trucking

Tell someone 20 years ago that there would be driverless trucks powered by electricity or alternative fuels on the road, and they would have laughed. But that is now the reality, poised to change the trucking industry forever.

You’ve probably heard about Tesla, Daimler, and Volkswagen and their autonomous electric trucks, but what about Einride, Kalmlar, and Traton? Valued at $301.2 billion in 2022, the autonomous truck market continues to grow, registering a CAGR of 15% between 2023 and 2032.

Scania’s expanding range of next-level, zero-emission battery electric trucks is one example. The company opened a battery assembly plant in Södertälje, rearranging its production line for large-scale production of electric trucks, and built a new test track for electrified and autonomous vehicles — where it’s trialing a unique solar-powered hybrid-electric truck designed with lightweight solar panels to lower operational costs and local emissions.

Solar-electric trucks and power pumps aren’t the only alternative to fossil fuels we’re seeing either. Nikola’s hydrogen fuel-cell tanks are fitted with two high-voltage batteries that recharge with regenerative braking, supplementing the fuel cell. And if the batteries get too low and drivers aren’t using regenerative braking, the fuel cell will charge the batteries back up. Built-in command centers allow drivers to review everything from fuel and battery levels to pressure readings and radars such as blind spots. The truck navigation is packed with bridge height and weight restrictions. What is the best part? A 500-mile range when fully loaded. 

Trucks continue to leverage fuel alternatives and semi-automated functionality, including lane-assist and assisted braking features for safety and efficiency. And with more advanced trucks, installed with tracking devices that help predict things like maintenance needs, break-downs will be less common and repairs less frequent. Such advancements herald a seismic shift in the industry. But most importantly, reduced accidents from self-driving and assisted technologies will save time, money, and lives.

Platoon, let’s roll out the trucking innovation

And with more advanced trucks comes more precise driving. These improved driving systems allow trucking rigs to be arranged into formations, intricately controlled by computers communicating between the trucks. This means they can be programmed to follow closely behind other trucks in their fleet — saving driver headcount and reducing emissions with the aerodynamics of convoying

It is all made possible through telematics: the sending, receiving and storing of information via telecommunication devices to meticulously control remote objects, such as trucks. The end result makes for a long line of heavy vehicles heading in the same direction, one after the next after the next.

This platooning method is a real cost-saver regarding fuel consumption and emissions. The combined line of trucks works to combat wind resistance and traffic congestion. Think about it: it also works as a safety feature for the public. Instead of many trucks dotted across our roads, this method creates a single, predictable file of large vehicles. 

A good example is the Kratos Unmanned Systems Division, contracted to deploy its self-driving platooning technology along a major trucking corridor between Ohio and Indiana in 2024. The Leader-Follower Platoon will be a first-of-its-kind deployment to tackle driver shortage by enabling business continuity when qualified drivers are unavailable.

It’s all connected to IoT and Telematics

It is easy to see why the Internet of Things (IoT) is having such an impact on innovation in trucking: better location tracking, better environment sensing, better fleet management, and better supply-demand balance. Basically, it is just better.

IoT forms a network of devices, vehicles, and appliances that can actively share data. For example, sensors mounted throughout the truck can monitor everything from tire pressure to load stability. Semi-autonomous and platooned truck systems, like those being developed by Kratos, will generate even more data for carriers and shippers to manage and make decisions. 

This exchange can drastically improve supply chain management and minimize the amount of human intervention that is necessary in any given situation. Penske reveals significant telematics adoption across fleet sizes: 54% of large fleets, 51% of medium fleets, and 37% of smaller fleets leverage the technology for efficiency, cost savings, and safety improvements. 

Take for instance Kuehne + Nagel, one of the world’s leading logistics companies. They are using sensors and a cloud-based platform to provide shippers with real-time information about the location and condition of critical freight in transit. Their solution, which brings IoT to freight monitoring, provides users with alerts based on temperature, humidity, pressure intrusion detection, shock, and tilt at the pallet or parcel level.

Really: why waste manpower on manually scanning each item or searching for the missing barcodes when robots equipped with built-in cameras and QR readers can do it in a fraction of the time? Hey, speaking of data…

Big data analytics is a big deal for innovation in trucking

The relationship between big data and efficient delivery should not be understated. It’s all logistics: precise location updates and real-time data analysis are revolutionizing the supply chain. 

However, to leverage big data, companies need to ensure that the data itself is of good quality, which is not typically the case in logistics. Fortunately, using Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms can help clean and enrich the data, significantly improving data quality. Big Data paired with AI also allows companies to forecast highly accurate outlooks for shipping volumes and to optimize operations proactively: planning for future performance rather than focusing on historical expectations.

Take, for instance, Geodis. The worldwide logistics giant has launched a new multi-carrier parcel shipping solution to boost on-time performance and optimize parcel shipments. It integrates external warehouse management systems and popular e-commerce platforms to streamline the fulfillment process according to each customer’s requirements.

Load-to-capacity matching is a crucial stage to maximize capacity usage and ensure every customer order is fulfilled. With route, destination, and capacity information at their fingertips, carriers can use load matching in logistics to help with route planning, load planning, and loading and unloading. Transmetrics’ FleetMetrics tool also helps carriers find information, such as available vehicles and average route lengths. Its predictive matching feature estimates future availability so customers can secure carriers for their upcoming loads. Trucking companies and carriers can operate efficiently by booking loads well in advance, optimizing capacity, and reducing operating costs. 

Don’t forget the humans

Talking all this tech can draw away from the human element involved: namely the drivers. For decades, the human behind the wheel has ensured goods arrived safely and securely. Human drivers are the linchpin of logistics companies — but with AI to support them, they benefit from better planning and communication, making their lives easier.

The implementation of automation has signaled predictions of doom and gloom for the prospects of future truck drivers. And with aging drivers and a lack of industry appeal, retaining the talent needed has been difficult. From inside the industry, however, another reality is forming. 

New career paths are being built with higher-paying offerings. Drivers are being trained on everything from inspecting and operating tractor-trailers to accident prevention and compliance regulations. By learning more about the technicalities and the bigger picture, such as how the trailers are used throughout the warehouses, drivers open doors to new opportunities to climb up the ladder.

Drivers themselves are in a critical shortage, and for those who remain behind the wheel, the advancements mentioned in this article will go a long way toward enriching their quality of work and, most importantly, safety on the route. It may not be so long until semi-automated trucks are platooning from city to city, running entirely on electricity, with big data analytics determining how the entire process can be done even better.