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Why Commercial Fleets Will Lead AV Rollouts

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April 2, 2020—ADAPT reported in March about the commercial trucking industry acting as a sort of proving ground for some light-duty vehicle trends like telematics and data-driven maintenance scheduling.

That rings true for Sid Nair, who is the head of product management and UX at Teletrac Navman, a tech company that specializes in fleet management, tracking and data. Nair says that things like autonomous technology, telematics and GPS data sharing and more will be more widely used earlier in commercial fleets than in light-duty vehicles.

“It's going to drive the regulations, the insurance, the maintenance,” he says. “All those technologies forward.”


Road to Autonomy

Fleet managers have financial incentives to gain efficiencies and cut costs. And because the vehicles are making money, it might be more economically feasible to invest in an expensive LiDAR unit into a commercial truck before they're placed in a family van.

Those early road tests could lead to more autonomy. And the management structure of a fleet—multiple vehicles with a single owner—might open up doors for the industry to learn more about how multiple autonomous vehicles in a fleet can operate around other vehicles.

“Commercial transportation will lead that way and lead that charge toward more of a centralized role for AV management,” he says.


Stepping Up

Data collection and GPS tracking are not new to the commercial truck world. Companies like Teletrac Navman have been doing it for years.

That’s the first step in advancing automation for a larger audience: Gathering the data. This is happening all over the automotive landscape, from roadway mapping to software “eyesight” recognition.

“All these trucks need to play together nicely,” Nair says. “So that unification of these technologies and that data coming out of that is step one.”

As the system advances, fleet manager become able to determine when, for example, a truck has issues and where. Eventually it can predict maintenance or let a truck know what needs to be done to get it back on the road.

“I think the fourth level is the true automation,” Nair says. “Not only do we tell the fleet manager what to do next, but we actually do it for them.”

Nair says that electric vehicle technology will go hand-in-hand with the rise of AV tech, even in commercial trucking. The infrastructure that will need to be built to support autonomous trucking and charging will ultimately lay the blueprint for the network that will serve everyday vehicle owners and users.

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