January 4, 2016

Driverless trucks could revolutionize GCC transport

Autonomous trucks, driverless vehicles that operate independently, are an emerging technology with significant potential benefits for GCC countries, according to a recent study by management consultancy Strategy& (formerly Booz & Co.).

Today most freight moves inside and amongst GCC nations by road. More than one million trucks are currently in operation across the region and this number increases by 5-9% each year. This growth trend poses significant challenges for the region’s economies and environment, as GCC countries experience more pollution, road accidents and traffic congestion due to the high volume of trucks on the roads.
Commenting on implementing driverless technologies in the GCC, Dr. Ulrich Kögler, Partner with Strategy& in Dubai said: “GCC countries will benefit from autonomous trucks more than any other region in the world. The technology can reduce fuel costs, dramatically reduce the number and cost of accident, reduce expatriate labor and create high value added technology jobs and firms. By thinking proactively about these issues GCC countries have a real opportunity to become a global leader in an evolving technology.”

The concept of driverless vehicles is not unheard of. Experimental self-driving vehicles such as Google’s driverless cars have accumulated more than 1 million kilometers on U.S. highways since 2011. Manufacturers are making great strides in developing autonomous-truck technology, with mass production possible in the coming decade.

Autonomous trucks present many advantages over conventional trucks. Firstly, looking specifically at fuel efficiency, some estimates suggest that driverless trucks would increase the efficiency of cargo trucks by 15-20% through computer-optimized acceleration and braking. Reduced fuel consumption would reduce costs and lead to lower emissions and a smaller environmental footprint. Beyond the cost and fuel advantages, autonomous trucks could also create significant additional economic and social benefits for the GCC. The industry holds the potential to create new high-value technology jobs, such as software developers, data analysts and programmers, and control center operators. Autonomous trucks would also reduce the region’s massive reliance on expatriate labor.
A final advantage is safety. Autonomous operation will clearly reduce the number of accidents involving trucks. Accidents involving heavy trucks account at least 10 percent of road fatalities, and cost up to US$8 billion per year, according to Strategy& estimates. Next-generation trucks will be able to self-monitor their condition and anticipate technical problems. Lastly, driverless trucks have a higher utilization rate, which helps reduce overall traffic congestion.
Outlining the appropriate conditions required for driverless trucks to be truly viable in the GCC, Fadi Majdalani, Partner with Strategy& said: “Policymakers will need to develop a legal framework and regulations that can accommodate and support autonomous vehicles. The region should also start preparing in terms of road infrastructure, and pushing for the development of such technology with manufacturers in order to create the appropriate environment for the introduction of driverless trucks.”