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The impact of autonomous trucks on India’s logistics sector

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As the fifth largest economy in the world, India has been investing in logistics infrastructure in the country. Most recently, the government launched the National Logistics Policy that stresses the need to adopt technology to strengthen the logistics sector such as streamlining processes for seamless coordination, reducing overall logistics costs, and providing an uptick in employment opportunities within the industry.

So far, India has seen an improvement in road networks and rail connectivity, more ports, inland container depots and warehousing services. This enhanced infrastructure throughout the country is enabling businesses to operate more efficiently and is taking India closer towards becoming a global manufacturing hub.

Automation is key to enhancing logistics efficiencies – from processing freight operations to tracking, and documentation. The use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is an example that enhances the safety and efficiency of logistics companies.

How self-driving trucks will benefit India?

According to a study, the global autonomous trucks market size is projected to reach USD 2,013.34 million from 2019 to 2027, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.6%. In India, there are already a handful of start-ups working to make self-driving trucks a reality, indicating the level of market confidence in AVs.

India has also revealed plans to build 26 green expressways in the next three years so that travel times between cities can be reduced. While a more connected road network will bring cities and communities closer together, this presents a great opportunity to spur the trials of autonomous trucks in India, which will benefit supply chains and alleviate congestion in international shipping ports.

Moreover, India is facing a shortage of 2.2 million truck drivers – a strong business incentive to move to self-driving trucks that can operate 24/7 with no need for rest stops. Since drivers account for about 40% of the cost of the freight movement, the savings are significant.

Prioritising safety first with location intelligence

India has one of the highest numbers of casualties in road accidents globally. In 2020, the country reported over 116,000 road accidents on national highways – including expressways, causing close to 48,000 deaths. To that point, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways of India has said that they will tap on artificial intelligence and advanced traffic management systems to improve the safety of road users and the surveillance network for security purposes.

Highly automated driving requires the vehicle to be able to sense, plan and act, all without human intervention. That requires various technologies working together to ensure a safe and smooth ride. This is where routing and navigation tools for trucks play a critical role. For instance, there are some roads where trucks are not allowed to park or turn into. If there is a diversion, smaller vehicles can take side roads to continue their journey, but some of these might not be suitable for trucks or permissible for automated vehicles.

For any level of autonomous driving, precise map data is necessary. Dynamic content, which includes traffic and weather data along with information about connectivity on the route, can be added to build an accurate and up-to-date picture of what is happening on the roads. It includes the operational design domain, which is information about where AVs are allowed to drive, along with certain road conditions and selected streets.

Location technology further supports highly automated driving at the simulation stage. Even before the vehicle sets its wheels on the road, it would already have “driven” millions of kilometres in simulation – thanks to map content and traffic data that simulate real-world scenarios. Such simulation runs are essential to teach automated pilots to drive safely in all circumstances before the vehicle hits actual roads. This helps to instil confidence that autonomous trucks can also provide a safe driving experience in the domains they’re designed for.

Autonomous trucks require unique skillsets

With employment opportunities and upskilling being a priority of the National Logistics Policy, autonomous trucks can open new job opportunities within the logistics sector. When handling an autonomous truck, the skills required will shift from a driver to an engineer operator.

For instance, programming skills are vital for someone to have a full understanding of how the whole AV system works. Robotics and electrical engineering skills needed for working with both hardware and software, electrical systems, and communications systems are equally important as well.

With cost savings brought about by AVs, companies can even invest in job training for their existing driver pool to help staff the new, higher-skilled technical roles.

Navigating the global supply chain crisis with autonomous trucks

The pandemic hasn’t just disrupted supply chains, it has exposed some long-term weaknesses.

However, India’s mobility ecosystem and logistics sector show big promise thanks to a commitment by the government and the constant innovation by companies.  

The adoption of AVs could be seen as part of an evolution for the country to keep up with the latest tech trends and make transportation and roads safe for all. Not only do AVs bring about economic and operational benefits, they also have the potential to create new opportunities and improve the competitiveness of India’s logistics sector. In the long term, AVs can help alleviate supply chain backlogs, fast-track the industry on the road to recovery, and improve overall road safety in India.


This article is authored by Abhijit Sengupta, Senior Director and Head of Business for Southeast Asia and India, HERE Technologies.

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