With technology that was once the stuff of science-fiction now a reality, from self-driving cars to delivery drones, there are plenty of theories about the ‘next big thing’ in transport. Fleets implementing GPS fleet tracking systems and integrated telematics solutions are gathering masses of useful data that can be used to innovate and improve legacy processes.
So, what’s on the horizon? Innovation coming out of the freight and transport sector focus on meeting the challenges of an increasingly urbanised society. The World Health Organisation says that more people are living in urban areas than ever before and 7 out of 10 people will be living in a city by 2050. This will magnify existing issues such as traffic congestion and global warming, with everyone from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to local governments looking to stem the impact.
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Some of the many new ideas are closer to fruition than others, but they all promise significant changes for fleets. Whether you’re operating heavy vehicles, pool cars, service vans or light commercial trucks, here are some of the most promising innovations that should be on your radar.
Underground Road Networks
Serial inventor Elon Musk recently announced his vision for an underground road system, aimed at improving traffic congestion, reducing road accidents and minimising petrol emissions. His new business, The Boring Company, proposes transporting vehicles between destinations using electric slides on a high-speed road network, which they access via an elevator.
What does it mean for your business? While heavy vehicles wouldn’t be fit for underground travel, it would help to alleviate congestion and reduce the risk of crashes between cars and truck drivers.
How likely is it? The plan to go underground makes sense, given our cities are rapidly filling up, but it also raises safety concerns. The sleds would travel at around 210 kilometres an hour, and would likely require a whole new set of safety considerations, gear and guidelines before the routes could be implemented. However, there are already real-life underground tunnel projects underway that point to this being the way of the future, including the Metro Tunnel project in Melbourne and WestConnex in Sydney.
Flying cars have long been the subject of fiction, from cartoons like The Jetsons to science-fiction like Fifth Element, but now they’re a genuine business plan. Munich-based company Lilium has developed a prototype of a five-seater jet for urban air-taxi and ride-sharing services, while Airbus plans a self-piloted flying car, which is to be tested this year. Uber also plans to trial flying taxis by 2020, envisioned as vertical take-off and landing electric aircrafts.
What does it mean for your business? As with the underground tunnels, the vehicles planned for air-travel are predominantly for light vehicle users with no direct impact on the transport sector. But they could go a long way towards decreasing traffic congestion and opening up more space for heavy vehicles on the road.
How likely is it? Given that drones and driverless cars are already raising safety concerns, the most obvious challenge with getting this tech off the ground (literally), is convincing regulators and the public that they’re a safe and reliable option. They’ll require rigorous testing and safety measures before they’re in wide circulation with customers, and will also need to ease concerns around restricted airspace and its enforcement.
High-speed Rail Network
The Hyperloop One is a proposed lightning-fast train that uses an electric motor to transport a levitated pod through a low-pressure tube. It’s expected to travel at more than 1000 kilometres per hour along a magnetic track, and could deliver passengers from Melbourne to Sydney in under an hour.
What does it mean for your business? This kind of high-speed railway could dramatically impact the freight sector, especially for long-haul or inter-state routes. The company has claimed it will help businesses save up to 80 per cent on real estate costs, slash freight spend, fuel waste and carbon dioxide emissions, and enable access to larger talent pools. However, critics suggest that the Hyperloop is likely to be limited by weight restrictions, and point out that trucks would still be needed to transport goods at either end of the fixed start and end points.
How likely is it? The company plans to test the full system this year, and is developing routes in five countries with a goal of moving cargo by 2020.
Internet of Things is already transforming the transport sector and growing exponentially in popularity. We’ve seen this from the increasing automation of vehicles and the ability of GPS fleet tracking to generate actionable insights. But it also has a range of applications for public roads and assets that can help governments gather useful data. For example, sensors are increasingly being used throughout cities to identify areas that need to be fixed and to automate maintenance processes.
What does this mean for you? Gathering information and communicating with infrastructure can drastically improve safety by reducing risks that aren’t otherwise readily identifiable. Governments and road owners can keep an eye on infrastructure, from bridges to highways, so they can identify potential risks caused by heavy traffic, weather damage or heavy vehicle routes. This helps to keep both drivers and pedestrians safe by reducing the number of collisions caused by uneven road surfaces, structural issues or damaged markings or signage.
How likely is it? This is already underway in some cities around the world, but it seems like only a matter of time before it’s par for the course. For example, the City of Boston has developed a ‘Street Bump’ app, which collects information about the surface of streets as users drive around, providing the exact location of potholes or bumps that need to be addressed.
Autonomous trucks are already paving the way for artificial intelligence and automation to play a bigger role in the industry, creating opportunities for further innovation in this space. More than four in 10 Australian fleets believe self-driving vehicles will play a part in the road freight transport sector, and 58 per cent see significant business benefit in operating autonomous trucks. The organisations that adopt these electronic solutions early will be miles ahead of their competitors when it comes to improving safety on the roads, streamlining customer experiences and helping businesses to drive down costs.