Though Daimler is testing its autonomous trucks exclusively in the state’s southwest region for now, self-driving technology is starting to gain a foothold in other parts of Virginia as well.
Fairfax County will have the first state-funded autonomous public transportation with an electric shuttle pilot that it plans to conduct in Merrifield next year with Dominion Energy, which is responsible for acquiring the vehicles.
Approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on June 25, the Connected Autonomous Vehicle Demonstration Project will provide a new travel option between the Mosaic District in Merrifield and the Dunn Loring Metro Station, while letting the county and Dominion study the operational, economic, and environmental impacts of the technology.
The pilot is funded with a $250,000 Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation grant and a $50,000 local match from the county.
While the public and media tend to focus on cars when picturing self-driving vehicles in the real world, TRUCKiD.COM product training director Richard Reina believes trucks may ultimately offer a more realistic application for the technology.
In his work for the truck parts supplier, Reina follows technological developments and other trends within the industry, and he says the opportunity to cut down on operating costs makes automation appealing to truck fleet operators like Daimler.
With 65 percent of consumable goods in the U.S. delivered by truck, full automation would save the trucking industry between $85 billion and $125 billion, reducing operating costs by 45 percent, according to the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which published a report on the potential impact of autonomous trucks in December 2018.
“[The] short-term impact to the loss of jobs looks bad,” Reina said. “If you’re looking at this kind of savings, also think, though, about … the reduction in cost to you and me, the end consumer, both in shipping costs as well as possibly the goods that we’re purchasing.”
Still, safety issues have become a barrier to the deployment of autonomous vehicles, even as proponents argue that automation will be an improvement from human drivers.