Driverless trucks treading our highways soon


  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, taken from the book I, Robot (1950)

What will shock many people is that within five years we may see 18 wheelers with no one at the wheel driving along our highways between cities.

The technology for driverless vehicles, which are in reality just giant robots, is speeding up, and the first convoy of this technology will likely be big trucks. Why?

Experts like Daimler Mercedes claim driverless vehicles create safer travel conditions for other vehicles, will be more efficient both in terms of personnel cost, wear and tear on the truck. One way that trucks will save money is that they will be able to draft off one another to save fuel, one of the trucking industry’s biggest expenses. They already have a verb for this type of drafting.  It is called platooning. See the photo below.

Initially, when we see the first generation of trucks, don’t expect them to drive the speed limit. They will probably be designed to go more slowly. The optimal fuel economy for large trucks is around 45 mph.  The reason trucks don’t drive that slowly right now is because truck drivers are regulated in how long they are allowed to drive, and many are compensated to make or beat a deadline, by being paid by the mile. So, they just speed along.

Ryan Petersen, the CEO of Flexport, a national transport company, recently wrote for Crunch Network, “Shipping a full truckload from L.A. to New York costs around $4,500 today, with labor representing 75 percent of that cost. But those labor savings aren’t the only gains to be had from the adoption of driverless trucks.

Where drivers are restricted by law from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking an 8-hour break, a driverless truck can drive nearly 24 hours per day. That means the technology would effectively double the output of the U.S. transportation network at 25 percent of the cost.”

Mercedes is one of the leaders of this truck technology and has already utilized driverless trucks in Germany and the Netherlands. Daimler says these trucks are safer than conventional trucks because the computers have faster reaction times and better “senses” than human beings. Daimler says that human drivers have a typical reaction time of 1.4 seconds, but these wirelessly connected trucks brake in less than 0.1 second. To make the journey even safer, each automated truck has a driver ready to take the wheel if necessary—at least for now.

A year ago more than a dozen large driverless trucks traveled in platoons leaving from Sweden and Southern Germany to Rotterdam. They were produced by six different manufacturers:  DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo.  They arrived safely without incident.  In this event, the trucks had drivers, just in case.

Now for some fun facts. What you may not realize is that most vehicles on the road today are already equipped with basic driverless vehicle technology. One advance is the adaptive cruise control (patented in 1990 by General Motors) which automatically senses vehicles travelling in front at a slower speed and instructs the car to reduce speed. The way it does this is through a radar system in the front grill that measures the speed of the vehicle in front. 

Adaptive cruise came out at in the early 2005 models on high-end vehicles, but it is now a common feature on most new cars.

Another technology that has been around for years that makes driverless vehicles and trucks a possibility is the ABS system. The Anti-lock Braking System is a secondary braking system that is activated in dangerous slick road conditions. It prevents your car or truck from sliding when you slam on the brakes. It helps a driver who is less skilled control the car in those terrifying driving conditions, but it also is an important step to the driverless vehicle. So, driverless vehicles may be safer in many respects than human driven vehicles.

So, that brings us to the next question. Will driverless vehicles have personalities?  Think of all the driverless cars from the movies: Herbie in The Love Bug


Or, who can forget the adventurous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang


Crime-fighting Kit from Knight Rider


or God forbid, the demonic Christine



In case you were wondering if there was ever a driverless truck movie, there were at least two.

Dennis Weaver starred in a 1971 film named Duel where a menacing 18-wheeler tailgates him in the Southwest desert. A young Steven Spielberg directed.



Another driverless truck movie was produced in 1986 based on the Stephen King novel titled Maximum Overdrive. In this horror film, machines are zapped by an outer space phenomenon that imbue them with terrible destructive abilities.


So what will the real driverless trucks be like? Just mobile smart appliances with no personality?  Will they be unfailingly polite like R2D2? Or will be able to be hacked and become demonic like the truck in Duel? 

Hopefully, all this technology will be built to observe Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.  

No matter what, when driverless trucks or cars hit the road, the technicians at Adolf Hoepfl Garage will be able to fix them.

Just get ready! As Volvo says The Future is Ahead of You.