The goods transport industry is facing drastic changes as digitisation and automation are driving the development of self-driving lorries forward. With the amount of goods and people that need to be transported on our already clogged roads growing day by day, new solutions in logistics and infrastructure are needed. This is also transforming the profession of truckers.
A tough guy with a soft core who keeps a cool head even on narrow mountain roads and who patiently sits through every traffic jam. For a long time, the lorry driver was a kind of asphalt cowboy, maintaining an aura of freedom, a down-to-earth adventurer. But everyday these “heroes of the highway” become rarer and rarer. A new generation is lacking. According to ADAC, for the 50,000 professional drivers leaving the industry every year, there are only 10,000 new drivers to replace them. According to the Federal Employment Agency Germany currently needs another 45,000 lorry drivers, and the number is rising. The demand for drivers remains high because of the boom in online commerce.
The job of a lorry driver today is inspiring far fewer newcomers than before. However, digitalisation and networking in the transport sector could soon make the job profile more attractive again, because they are creating new opportunities and fields of employment for “lorry drivers”. Intelligent safety systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) by MAN are already assisting drivers in their everyday working life. Heavy commuter traffic, daily traffic jams or stop-and-start, bumper-to-bumper movement are some of the typical, extremely demanding driving situations that are mitigated by the ACC’s integrated stop-and-go function.
New job description, new image?
The trend goes beyond this though: at the IAA Commercial Vehicles 2018, Mercedes-Benz introduced the latest generation of fully networked lorries. Tomorrow’s truck will become smarter and more comfortable. Partially automated driving, MirrorCams instead of side mirrors and an interactive multimedia cockpit ensure greater safety and comfort. But is that enough to generate new enthusiasm for today’s problematic “driver’s seat”? Are human drivers still necessary when computers have taken the wheel?
Yes and no. As the lorry cockpit evolves into a human-machine interface (HMI), the driver transforms into a modern logistics specialist in a digital lorry. Which means a new job description. During the autonomous journey, the driver can comfortably carry out office and planning tasks and monitor the self-driving system; which is similar to what happens in the aviation sector. As a cargo manager, the driver prepares the transport, loads the transporter, monitors departure and arrival, and finally unloads the cargo. The “pilot” is actively involved in the transport process before and after the journey commences, as well as during the final miles. Or in the event of an emergency.
Intuitive operation represents a challenge for HMI systems. “Drivers want a simple system, not a complex machine that you have to learn how to use first,” says HMI designer Annelie Schanz. Which is why interface design draws from already established and familiar concepts present in commercial tablets or smartphones. “The driver’s workplace will gradually transform into an office workstation with a lounge atmosphere, acquiring a digital soul,” predicts Oliver Stick, exterior and interior designer for Mercedes-Benz lorries.
Comfort is the standard in long-distance transport
The current cabs already combine the advantages of a modern workplace with an enticing sense of spaciousness and ambiance. For example, the Mercedes Actros offers more freedom of movement and storage space, which come together in a functional synergy. The clear separation of workplace and living space is a common feature of the 11 available cab variants. Intuitive and ergonomic user interfaces allow drivers to work efficiently and comfortably in MAN cockpits, while at the same time offering more comfort in the sleeping area.
The trucker as a planning and monitoring IT specialist in autonomous high-tech vehicles: this new job description should lead to an image boost and to renewed interest in the driving profession. But only time will tell if the fully networked driver’s cab will bring back the aura of freedom and audacity of days gone by.