Faced with safety and productivity challenges and an extremely high turnover rate, the trucking industry is turning to next-generation user experience technologies with the potential to transform the industry.
Safety is top of mind for trucking companies. One in 25 drivers admitted to having fallen asleep behind the wheel in the previous month, in a survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Truck drivers are at particular risk for drowsy driving: They spend long hours on the road, day after day, in monotony and social isolation. Within a period of 14 consecutive hours, a trucker in the United States may drive as many as 11 hours. In the European Union, daily driving is limited to nine hours but can extend to 10 hours twice a week, and total weekly driving time can total up to 56 hours.
In addition to addressing safety, the industry needs to find ways to attract new talent. Two years ago, the American Trucking Association (ATA) estimated that there could be 100,000-plus unfilled positions by 2023. Similarly, the International Road Transport Union (IRU) recently reported driver shortages around the world, with European companies, for example, expecting a 17 percent shortfall this year.
IRU research also found that efforts to diversify the trucking workforce by bringing in more young or female drivers continue to fall flat. The average age of truck drivers globally is now nearing 50, and the percentage of female truck drivers actually declined last year around the world.
The industry's labor challenges do not stop with attracting new drivers; it also has to figure out how to keep the ones they have. The ATA reported that the annualized turnover rate at large U.S. carriers was a whopping 90 percent in 2020. The rate for businesses generally, in contrast, is 12 to 15 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The trucking industry needs to address the challenges of attracting and retaining more drivers through customizable solutions that keep them alert, engaged and socially connected during long hauls. Providing a next-generation user experience can help meet all of these goals, with technologies and designs focused on safety, entertainment and productivity. Here are a couple of examples.
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The 2025 user experience
Imagine that it is 2025. Ben is driving a truck equipped with the latest advances in interior sensing, driver sensing and infotainment, with enhanced connectivity providing fleet management and data analytics capabilities. The navigation system is equipped for continuous app and data updates over the air (OTA) to ensure the most optimal route at all times.
It is 10:30 a.m., and Ben has already been on the road for hours. The vehicle's driver-state sensing system notices that Ben is getting tired and suggests that he turn up the air conditioning to help boost his alertness.
It is 11:30 a.m. The system tells Ben that a new function is available via the app ecosystem, downloaded through an OTA update. Ben starts the app and takes part in a voice-based game with other drivers in the fleet, which keeps them alert and engaged and mitigates their drowsiness. The infotainment system, which is connected to the vehicle's enhanced safety system, alerts Ben to an oncoming vehicle to make sure he notices it.
At 4 p.m., Ben takes an afternoon break. Because he belongs to the company health plan, a workout regimen has been designed just for him. Since he has been feeling drowsy throughout the day, Ben is required to complete a short workout with a light set of reps to get his blood flowing without tiring him out.
The 2030 user experience
By 2030, trucking fleets will have access to 5G connectivity, extended-reality technology, Levels 3 and 4 vehicle automation, full cabin-sensing coverage, ecosystem synchronization and touchless interactions. These innovations could improve the truck-driving experience even further and create space for more diverse drivers and working models.
It is 6 a.m., and Cecilia is conducting her vehicle pre-check. Wearing augmented-reality glasses and listening through an earpiece, she is guided by the in-vehicle assistant through the process of making sure the vehicle does not have any safety issues.
At 7:45 a.m., Cecilia is driving. The system notifies her that it is available to take over and offers step-by-step instructions for her to hand over control. With the vehicle in autonomous mode, Cecilia has the opportunity to engage in college coursework while the system ensures she is aware of important road scenarios and gives her plenty of forewarning to take back control if needed.
At 3 p.m., Cecilia's automated assistant connects with her home security system to make sure her daughter made it home from school. Then the assistant offers Cecilia the option to jump on a video call with her daughter while the system seamlessly takes over the driving.
At 4 p.m., Cecilia's workday is over, and she engages with friends via the vehicle's virtual reality system for some group physical activity. The cabin's sound system provides an immersive environment that enhances the experience.
A different future
These scenarios offer examples of what the future might look like. In the coming years, we expect a rich app ecosystem to develop that takes advantage of technologies such as interior sensing, connected infotainment and continuous software updates. The systems will become service delivery platforms, providing services that stay fresh through updates and upgrades.
Those apps will have an opportunity to go far beyond basic safety and entertainment use cases. Such enhancements will give rise to all-new business models, but they will also provide truck drivers with innovative ways to improve their productivity while achieving better work-life balance. After all, a truck cabin is both a driver's workspace and their home away from home.
Aptiv is at the forefront of in-cabin evolution for the trucking industry, with our integrated cockpit controllers, interior sensing platform and Android reference platform. Aptiv's approach can increase speed to market by up to 30 percent while reducing costs, and our continuous integration and delivery capabilities are helping our customers innovate, offer best-in-class experiences and extend vehicle lifetimes.
The innovations that will start to become available in the next few years will lay the groundwork for features that will increase safety for truck drivers, providing a user experience designed to keep them engaged in the act of driving. At the same time, the technologies can help put truck drivers' needs at the forefront, making the experience less isolating and more attractive to young and diverse drivers.