Future transport technology trends
We examine the technology trends that are likely to impact sustainable fleet management, travel, and logistics in the future
Technology has had a significant impact how people and goods are moved over the years, and will continue to do so as it evolves. From self driving vehicles, artificial intelligence, to zero-emission fuels, we explore the technology trends that will help get transport get to net zero.
Self-driving vehicles could help reduce deaths and injuries as 88 per cent of road collisions have human error as a contributory factor.
Self-driving vehicles could also revolutionise public transport and passenger travel, especially for those who don’t drive or live in rural communities.
They could also be better for the environment, as autonomous vehicles drive in the most optimum and efficient way. Truck platooning meanwhile enables vehicles to drive closer together over long distances, thereby cutting air drag friction, bringing down fuel consumption and cutting costs.
The UK has now introduced the new Automated Vehicles (AV) Bill to regulate and ensure the safety of self driving vehicles. The new safety framework will ensure clear liability for the user, set the safety threshold for legal self-driving and establish an in-use regulatory scheme to monitor the ongoing safety of these vehicles.
All self-driving vehicles will be required to undergo robust safety testing before they are permitted to drive on UK roads, and the AV Bill will ensure clear legal liability when a vehicle is driving itself.
The SMMT says that the UK could benefit from a £66 billion annual economic uplift by 2040 if it embraces connected and automated mobility.
To find out what efficiencies can be gained from self driving vehicles, the government is funding trials. One of these is a project to test autonomous cargo, focusing on the development of an autonomous dolly for airside cargo movements. Building on previous experience with smaller baggage dollies, the project will develop a unique autonomous airside 7.5t cargo dolly.
WorldAutoSteel has unveiled a fully autonomous, electric vehicle body structure concept for ride sharing, called Steel E-Motive. Its objective was to create a self-driving ride sharing vehicle concept showcasing the strength and durability of steel with a critical focus on sustainability for reaching net zero emissions targets.
Artificial intelligence is increasingly being integrated into fleet management software to improve its ability to reduce costs, increase productivity, and cut emissions.
Algorithms can learn from data and identify any patterns which could be changed to increase efficiency and safety, as well reduce cost and emissions. It is also very useful for electric vehicles, with AI intelligently predicting battery capability and available range.
Welch’s Transport, for example is rolling out Optimize technology, which uses AI based algorithms, across its 80-vehicle fleet, including its electric vehicles. This followed a trial which saw a 15 per cent reduction in mileage and emissions.
The Optimize algorithms work across a number of customer requirements to route and schedule fleets for maximum efficiency, and allow businesses to reduce carbon emissions, by optimising fleet productivity. Welch’s Transport is also utilising the Optimize technology to maximise the use of its new electric vehicles, as it predicts battery capability and available range.
Amazon meanwhile has implemented a new artificial intelligence based technology that can spot even the smallest anomalies in delivery vans – from tyre deformities and undercarriage wear to bent or warped body pieces – before they become on-road problems. The new Automated Vehicle Inspection (AVI) technology offers reassurance to fleet managers who previously had to rely solely on the human eye and manual inspections for daily safety rounds. Amazon is launching the AVI technology in partnership with tech start-up UVeye in the US, Canada, Germany, and the UK.
Zero emission HGVs
The UK has a plan to end the sale of new, non-zero emission HGVs less than or equal to 26 tonnes from 2035, and all new non-zero emission HGVs from 2040.
The SMMT reports that uptake of electric and hydrogen trucks continues to rise, representing 0.8 per cent of the market in the third quarter of 2023 – the largest quarterly share of 2023, compared with 0.3 per cent and 0.4 per cent in Q1 and Q2 respectively.
But while sales are growing, they make up a tiny share of the market. And the SMMT argues that with only one public HGV chargepoint in the UK, a national plan for public and depot infrastructure is urgently needed.
In October, the government announced a a £200 million boost to decarbonise freight vehicles - which includes demonstrators programmes and the delivery of 57 charging and refuelling sites.
One future technology that could significantly help future electric trucks is wireless charging.
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have pushed inductive power transfer technology further to enable high-power battery charging for the fleet industry.
The wireless charger uses a new type of silicon carbide semiconductor and a newly developed copper wire that is as thin as a human hair. These two factors make transmitting high power through air a realistic proposition.
Charging power of 150kW to 500kW would be possible without a physical connection between the vehicle and charger. This makes charging at a depot, for example, more straightforward and removes the need for heavy charging cable.
There are a handful of electric trucks now on the market. One example is the Mercedes-Benz Trucks eActros 600, which is equipped with three battery packs providing a total capacity of 621kWh. The range is said to be around 300 miles, but Mercedes says it will be able to travel “significantly” more than 600 miles per day by intermediate charging during legally prescribed driver breaks.
There are examples of fleets successfully using electric trucks too. Amazon has five 37-tonne fully-electric vehicles operating from Amazon’s fulfilment centres in Tilbury and Milton Keynes, transporting customer packages with zero tailpipe emissions. And there’s innovation around hydrogen as a zero emission fuel too. For example, Hydrogen Vehicle Systems (HVS) is a new UK-based hydrogen vehicle OEM which has unveiled its 40-tonne HGV technology demonstrator with a 370 mile range.
Meanwhile, IVECO has announced that it will produce fuel cell electric HGVs following the acquisition of the former joint venture Nikola Iveco Europe. The fuell cell vehicle is reported to have a range of just under 500 miles with fast-refuelling time of under 20 minutes. The first units will be delivered in France, Switzerland and Germany at end of 2023.
Another future technology that could change the future of logistics is drones.
Automated drones can reduce transportation and human costs and increase the efficiency of deliveries.
Automated drones can navigate direct routes, avoiding traffic congestion, bypassing multiple stops and therefore reducing delivery times.
Replacing or supplementing conventional transportation methods with battery-powered drones will also result in fewer delivery vehicles on the road, helping to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution.
Royal Mail and Skyports Drone Services are conducting a drone delivery project established in partnership with Orkney Islands Council Harbour Authority and Loganair.
This involves a daily inter-island mail distribution service between three islands on Orkney. The project will initially operate for three months, with the intent to extend in the future.
Letters and parcels will be transported from Royal Mail’s Kirkwall delivery office to Stromness, from where Skyports Drone Services will conduct drone deliveries to Royal Mail staff on Graemsay and Hoy.
Royal Mail is also working with Windracers, to scale up its use of drone technology and create more than 50 new postal drone routes over the next three years, subject to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval.
The partnership will facilitate and operate uncrewed drones to provide faster and more convenient services for customers in remote communities.
Mobility as a service
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is the integration of various modes of transport along with information and payment functions into a single mobility service. It can offer streamlined journeys for travellers and commuters; help achieve the UK’s environmental targets and make use of innovative technology to encourage modal shift.
MaaS has the potential to help the UK meet its decarbonisation ambitions by making sustainable transport options, such as shared mobility and public transport, an easy option. MaaS can help the travelling public make more sustainable choices by providing information on carbon emissions and enabling walking and cycling routes.
In late August, the government published its Mobility as a Service (MaaS) Code of Practice, which will be an important tool for local authorities looking to implement MaaS solutions.
Transport for West Midlands is working on a MaaS app to be released in 2024. It will provide residents and visitors with a digital one-stop-shop for travel using public, active, and shared transport. As part of the programme, it will also integrate the systems used for customer service, accounts, passenger information, and transactions.
Image shows WorldAutoSteel’s autonomous ride sharing vehicle concept.