Not only since the pandemic have we noticed a shortage of long-distance drivers. Who is still prepared to drive goods across Europe for hours and days on end, harassed by environmental zones that many a heavy truck with the wrong sticker has to avoid. In the future, truck drivers may only need a screen and an armchair to direct the fleet.
The Brexit once again put a spotlight on the misery: there is now such a shortage of capable drivers throughout the UK that the Christmas business is threatened. But those who make fun of this do not know the continental European figures. In this country, too, fewer and fewer people are choosing the profession of long-distance driver: The working conditions are too bad, the social recognition is too low, and truck drivers are seen above all as polluters.
A Munich-based company has a solution to these problems: semi-automatic trucks that can be remote-controlled. The company, called Fernride, steers its fleet via computer, with the driver sitting in front of the screen in the office rather than on the trestle in the driver's cab. The vehicle drives and steers, accelerates and brakes. The driver himself checks and intervenes if something unexpected happens: If a sensor on the vehicle is defective or it is necessary to avoid an obstacle on the way. The advantage: the driver can control and guide up to 50 trucks at the same time, where otherwise another 49 colleagues would be needed behind the wheel.
However, the heavy vehicles do not yet drive on the open road, but in demarcated areas of various logistics companies. This is because the technology is not only suitable for transporting goods, but also for forklift trucks and other construction machinery. The prerequisite is that the vehicle has so-called drive-by-wire technology, i.e. the technology works not only mechanically but also electronically. The technology relies on a reliable mobile phone connection to maintain contact with the vehicle. On a factory site or container terminal, this is always available; on the open road, there are still too many radio gaps for the technology to be relied on 100 per cent.
It will therefore be quite a while before all heavy goods vehicles are guided by radio. Until then, we have to rely on the experienced men in the driver's cab. But if you want to know where you are not allowed to drive your vehicle, you can rely on the Green-Zones app!