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GCC contemplates driverless truck framework

Rohma Sadaqat/Dubai
Filed on January 5, 2016
GCC contemplates driverless truck framework

More than one million trucks are currently in operation across the region.

Driverless trucks that operate independently are an emerging technology that offer significant potential benefits for GCC countries, according to a recent study by management consultancy Strategy&.

With the recent improvements in driverless technology, most notable, paving the way for Google's driverless cars, the jump to autonomous trucks has been a natural one. Experimental self-driving vehicles such as Google's driverless cars have accumulated more than one million kilometers on US highways since 2011; and manufacturers are making great strides in developing autonomous-truck technology, with mass production possible in the coming decade.

Today most freight moves inside and amongst GCC nations by truck. More than one million trucks are currently in operation across the region and this number increases by 5-9 per cent 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. Driver-free trucks will soon become an economic imperative for motor carriers, changing the economics of shipping.

"We expect very fast paced development of this technology, as it provides significant cost/commercial advantages to trucking companies - in the mature economies even more than in emerging ones. Today the first semi-autonomous trucks are in test operation on normal highways in the US and in Germany proving that the industry is intensely working on this technology," Dr Ulrich Kögler, partner with Strategy& in Dubai, told Khaleej Times.

"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," he said.

Specialised automated trucks are already in use at off-road and remote locations, such as mines in Australia and Chile, military bases, and container terminals. On-road, they are being tested in the US and Europe by Freightliner/Daimler, Volvo, and Peterbilt. Driverless trucks on open roads will face the same challenges as driverless cars, although trucks' added size and weight are likely to generate even greater safety concerns.

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."

- rohma@khaleejtimes.com

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