Smart Trucks: Why Haven’t We Embraced Them Yet in Australia?

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As the world moves toward automation and smart technology in the trucking sector, Australia is lagging behind. Even though we are world leaders when it comes to remotely controlled trucks for commercial applications, like regional mine sites, when it comes to automation we’re far from the top.

Of course, there’s been plenty of talk across the country to implement initiatives to improve truck technology, so why the delay? Well, getting smart trucks on our roads is quite the complicated process.

Firstly, the implementation of different technologies needs to be tested and approved across all State and Federal governments, which in itself is a big undertaking. And that’s not all, the industry hinges on infrastructure which simply cannot support automation in its current state, not to mention the cost and knock-on effects such changes would make to the industry.

A few other considerations impacting the move to automation include driver knowledge, truck size, and how it would impact different aspects of the industry, such as if you wanted to purchase, sell or hire a truck.

In saying that, New South Wales and Queensland are leading the way with integrated technology initiatives for large trucks and commercial vehicles. These initiatives are aimed at improving road safety for all users.

Infrastructure: The Biggest Delay of the Smart Truck

Automated freight transport and smart trucks have faced many challenges in Australia, but the biggest roadblock has been the diverse infrastructure (or lack thereof) across the country.

Autonomous trucks require wide, multi-lane roads, with a minimum width of 3.5-3.8m. Only a small portion of Australian roads, mostly in parts of the eastern states, meet these criteria. This means if we want more smart autonomous trucks in our supply chain, our highways across the country need some serious upgrades, and not just in width but in technology as well.

In order to host autonomous smart trucks on our roads, clear line markings and integrated technologies such as telecommunications upgrades are also required. All of this takes testing and time.

While improving Australia’s road infrastructure will take careful planning and time, there are several benefits including the opportunity to bring newer trucking advancements to the country. Currently, Australia’s roads and lack of quality telecommunications in regional areas means that some technology simply cannot be used on our roads, such as road mapping technology, which would assist in highlighting current black spots in freight and supply chains.

Aussie Truck Legal Widths A Thorn in Tesla’s Side

Another blow to Australia’s trucking industry is the road width limitations which are also causing us to lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to electric vehicles.

So close yet so far; Tesla’s electric semi-trucks will not be released to the Australian market unless width limitations on Australian vehicles are changed.

Currently, Tesla’s smart truck is 30-50mm wider than Australia’s 2.5m road width limit. This is yet another setback from Australia benefiting from new truck technology, as well as more sustainable electronic trucks. It’s likely that Australia will continue to lag behind America and Europe unless changes are made to allow these upgraded technologies onto our roads.

Not All Bad News

While at this stage there are large setbacks to allow autonomous trucks onto Australian roads, there are initiatives pushing forward for the progression of large haul truck technology.

Transport for NSW (in collaboration with The University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics) has undertaken a three-year automated vehicle research and development trial, which aims to understand how automated vehicles interact with vulnerable road users. This trial will help develop intelligent vehicle systems to improve the safety of these interactions. It will also help these technologies be better understood and hopefully smoothen the transition to autonomous trucks when the time comes.

It’s easy to see why, when it comes down to the real implementation of smart autonomous trucks, we aren’t seeing a lot of fast progress. As it currently stands, there is much to be done, but who knows what is around the corner – the beauty of technology is it’s constantly evolving. Perhaps some time in the future there won’t be a need to change our infrastructure in order to accommodate smart trucks, but until then, it looks like standard-driven trucks will be the norm for years to come.