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New IRU research points to technology and automation

Technology and automation will define the future of road transport according to new IRU research, but the organisation adds that significant obstacles stand in the way

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The global snapshot survey is based on interview data from 450 transport companies across Europe, the GCC and Asia. The bullet points are:

  • Most (57%) transport companies in Europe, Asia and GCC countries view geopolitical uncertainty as the biggest threat to their development.
  • Technology and innovation are key to overcoming challenges and securing the future of the industry - 76% of transport companies surveyed expect autonomous trucks to become a viable option on the roads within the next decade. Almost a third of those believe they will be on the roads within five years. The main benefits are cited as productivity increases and lower costs.

At the opening of its World Congress in Oman yesterday (6th November), IRU urged the industry to fix the digital foundations of transport in order to fully benefit from automation and other innovations.

 

Geopolitical risks cited include escalating international trade wars and growing concerns around Brexit. The risk of global recession and the challenge of keeping up with changing customer demand are jointly seen as the second biggest threats to transport companies (52%).

 

One in three transport companies across every region believe that improving safety will be the biggest innovation opportunity, while one in five cite automation.

 

Barriers to adopting technology persist, with transport companies citing the major challenges to adopting technology driven innovation as cost and investment (71%), followed by a limited understanding of the range of emerging technologies available (50%).

 

This suggests, says the IRU, that pockets of the industry have yet to embrace new technologies and processes, and that there is still work to do to fix the digital foundations of the industry before technology-driven innovation can be optimised properly.

 

"Similarly," says the IRU, "while many transport companies believe autonomous trucks are just around the corner, the reality is that there is still some way to go before they become a safe, secure and sustainable option on our roads. While the technology itself is becoming ever more sophisticated, there is a risk that it will be held back by the lack of necessary investment in infrastructure."

 

Boris Blanche, IRU’s Managing Director, commented: “There is no question that autonomous trucks will eventually be transformative for the industry – helping boost productivity, create efficiencies and enhance driver working conditions. But drivers will not become obsolete any time in the future, and in fact the industry must continue to encourage more drivers into the profession. Proper and responsible adoption over time is required, and we must see full cooperation from all industry stakeholders.”

 

This is the closest that this IRU release comes to discussing the growing problem of long-distance driver shortages, with a particularly-marked ageing profile in developed areas such as North America and Europe. This is driving opportunities for intermodal rail, inland waterways and shortsea shipping, as well as pushing the boundaries for innovative technologies such as platooning and autonomous trucks.

 

Umberto de Pretto, IRU’s Secretary-General said: “For technology to take hold, and for the industry to truly benefit from it, we must ensure we have the foundations in place. This means first getting the basics right, such as full transitioning to digital documentation, improving traceability, security and efficiency. We must work harder to join the dots between operators, service providers, manufacturers and governments to nurture a supportive environment for innovation and digitisation.

 

“We must also push for legislation and policies that encourage all operators to invest in the technology needed to make these innovations the norm. At IRU, our role is to champion the potential of the industry and promote this cooperation, to empower all operators in the sector to seize the great innovation opportunity.”

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