Autonomous trucking a pathway to increased energy efficiency in freight claims white paper

Self-driving company Aurora says that optimised driving and off-peak deliveries could cut emissions

Could autonomous trucks cut emissions in this mode of transport by a third?

That’s the claim being made by Aurora Innovation, a self-driving technology company, which laid out in a white paper that they think that autonomous trucks can improve energy efficiency over traditional trucks by up to 32%.

What makes them more efficient?

The white paper says that this could be achieved via different usage patterns for autonomous trucks, centred around:

  1. Operating outside peak times: autonomous trucks do not have preferred working hours, allowing more freight to be moved off-peak when traffic is reduced. This not only reduces fuel consumption, but also alleviates congestion and decreases fuel use for other vehicles.
  2. Reducing idling: traditional trucks consume fuel idling during driver breaks. Aurora estimates that this accounts for 4%-9% of total fuel use. Although autonomous trucks cannot completely eliminate idling, they can significantly optimise driving time.
  3. Optimised highway speeds: with their greater range in operating times fully autonomous trucks can go further in the same number of hours and won’t have to speed up to get to destinations before their tachometer and driving time regulations force them to stop.  This means they can drive at lower average speeds. Aurora Innovation estimates that driving on highways at 65 mph instead of 70-75 mph could reduce fuel usage by 9%–17%.
  4. Eco-driving: inefficient braking and acceleration are two of the main causes of automobile energy consumption. Eco-driving strategies, which optimise acceleration, braking, and coasting to increase energy economy and decrease fuel consumption, can be utilised by autonomous trucks. On its own, more strategic coasting could save up to 9.5% of fuel.

These reductions in fuel would also create substantial savings in operating costs.

Transportation: A Major Contributor to Emissions

About 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US are caused by transportation, with medium- and heavy-duty trucks accounting for 23% of this total.

In states like California where freight activity is abundant, transport can contribute as much as 50% of greenhouse gas emissions.

This leaves the freight sector with a long journey to get towards the reduced emissions expected in many jurisdictions.

Therefore, if these estimates can be replicated in the real world, it may give further impetus to autonomous trucking, although robotic vehicles will also have to clear many regulatory hurdles before large scale deployment occurs.


In addition, the white paper believes that the supply chain's incorporation of autonomous trucks might accelerate the uptake of cutting-edge powertrains like hydrogen fuel cells and battery-electric vehicles.

Report authors point out that autonomous vehicles will be deployed initially on fixed routes, which will facilitate charging and fuelling infrastructure due to predictable requirements along these paths.

In their analysis, they say that autonomous trucks can also better manage the range and charging/fuelling needs of next-generation powertrains, which would reduce the infrastructural requirements to some degree.

Furthermore, despite higher initial costs, the potentially lower operating expenses and higher utilization rates of autonomous trucks can lead to quicker returns on investments in new powertrains.

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