By Roger Gilroy, Transport Topics
Autonomous truck developer Locomation announced an eight-year agreement with El Reno, Okla.-based Stevens Trucking Co. to provide the carrier with its human-guided Level 2 autonomous relay convoy (ARC) turnkey system.
Stevens becomes the fourth carrier to commit to the technology, joining Wilson Logistics, PGT Trucking and Christenson Transportation.
A soft launch for all four is scheduled this year, and commercial deployment in 2024, with decisions made then about how many trucks and from whom, Locomation reported.
Stevens hauls truckload freight and has an oil field division. It has 300 tractors and 1,500 trailers.
“My goal is that Stevens Trucking will be the first to market in our lanes with an autonomous truck service with Locomation,” owner Kenney Stevens said during a Zoom call Locomation arranged. “So we knew we needed to lock in our place at the front of the line when AV trucks start to deploy in order to be fully prepared with the freight needed to make this model work day in and day out. The bottom line for us is that the economics are profound.”
Using Locomation’s proprietary planning and optimization system, Stevens will restructure its operation using a relay model to eventually run its ARC trucks 20-plus hours per day in six lane segments, Pittsburgh-based Locomation reported.
Stevens forecast it will double its market share on these lanes, reduce empty miles by up to 50%, and improve fuel efficiency by more than 20%, including substantial reduction in GHG emissions for their shipper customers looking to increase their sustainability profile.
“Like we discovered with the analysis [Locomation provided] roughly 18% of all tonnage flows on roadways within a 500-mile stretch of Oklahoma City, which is pretty incredible,” said Cole Stevens, vice president of sales, “especially with our geographic location. We think the sky’s the limit with this partnership.”
Stevens eventually intends to run 500 trucks in its ARC program, and will keep some others as traditional trucks. “But the cream of the crop is who is going to be operating these [L2 trucks],” Kenney Stevens said.
Locomation noted its entire model is centered around tapping into the experience and unique capabilities of the human driver. “So we are not looking to replace the drivers. We are looking to augment and complement the drivers,” said Çetin Meriçli, the technology company’s co-founder and CEO. “We are looking to expand existing capabilities and not displace people.”
With ARC, there are two trucks with L2 technology — that allows the automated control of steering and braking under a driver’s direct supervision — and two drivers. One is off duty in the trailing truck. The human-piloted lead truck is operating for two trucks in the technology-enabled combination, where the actions of the first are relayed to and implemented by the trailing truck. After 11 hours, the trucks and drivers trade places and on/off duty status.
Hardware and software enable the tractors to operate as part of the autonomous convoy, including sensors, cameras, radar, lidar and computing units to crunch the numbers and run the algorithms. A dedicated radio link connects the two trucks.
There are redundant safety systems, such as steering, braking and the computing systems in each truck.
“Autonomous truck operator is a new labor force,” said Glynn Spangenberg, chief commercial officer at Locomation.
“The new workforce is going to be savvy, regardless of age, and operate these machines and do it at a level far beyond what normal truck drivers do. They’ll make more money, be more efficient and have a fun time operating the system. It’s a whole different world for the drivers.”
He added: “We are looking to load this up with about 10,000 trucks total. We have [identified] 68 of these ARC segments.”
Initially, ARC will only be available as an up-fit kit to be installed on a newly built compatible base truck, Locomation reported.
Locomation, in a statement, said its revenue will be generated through “an implementation investment when the ARC-equipped trucks are shipped and a monthly Digital Driver subscription; plus value-added professional services to assist in planning, training, implementation, and ongoing organizational capabilities to ensure the clients we serve get the most out of the autonomous trucking services they deliver to their customers.”