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Technology and automation will define road transport in the 21st century

Technology and automation will define road transport in the 21st century
Jorge Cachinero el


70 years ago, with Europe still reeling from the devastation caused by the Second World War, the International Road Transport Union (IRU) @the_IRU established a system, namely, the Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR) system, to facilitate and promote trade and transport between nations as they sought to rebuild.

By building links between countries and making it as easy as possible to transport people and goods by road, the TIR system was instrumental in helping to develop and re-establish societies and economies. Later, during the 1950s, the TIR system was institutionalized by the United Nations (UN) by means of the approval of the UN TIR Convention.

Today, the world is a very different place. Road transport and trade have evolved beyond recognition. But one thing remains the same – trade is still the driving force behind international prosperity and peace.

Indeed, in a globalized economy, road transport is a vital production tool interconnecting businesses and markets. And efficient, effective supply chains are the cornerstone of international trade.

Around the world demand for road transport is increasing; yet geopolitical uncertainty and instability, coupled with widespread social and economic disruption, is threatening its growth.

Burgeoning international trade wars and protectionism pose significant concern to the future of our sector.

Harnessing technology and innovation for a safe, successful and sustainable future in the face of this disruption and uncertainty holds the key to unlocking growth, sustainability and success for the global road transport industry.

New developments in technology and innovation represent a huge opportunity that must be grasped with both hands.

Yet a job needs to be done to ensure the benefits of technology can be enjoyed by everyone in our sector.

While innovative disruptors are charging ahead, transport companies in many parts of the world still lack the resources or infrastructure to benefit from digitization. There is a need to ensure the right foundations are in place to enable players in all corners of the globe to seize the opportunities that technology brings.

The insights from transport companies coming from IRU @the_IRU report, “The Future of Road Transport”,, which can be found at, provide an important and timely snapshot of the sector. They shine a light on the challenges and opportunities faced by those on the front line, and help better understand how the industry can be supported at this pivotal moment.

The report recognizes the potential of technology-driven innovation to revolutionize this industry from a commercial, operational and environmental point of view.

But at the same time, it sees numerous challenges and obstacles to effectively adopting these new innovations.

The global outlook for the road transport industry has never been characterized by so much change and so many challenges.

The report data shows that road transport companies are most concerned about the big global issues that dominate the international news agenda, rather than the more nuanced issues specific to the industry.

According to the report findings, the biggest perceived challenges are the geopolitical uncertainty, the possibility of another global recession and worries about keeping up with increasing customer demand.

Despite these challenges, the road transport industry recognizes that in an ever-more competitive business environment, technology-driven innovation has the potential to unlock immense opportunities.

They see successful adoption of technology as key to long-term survival. When considering how technology will best be able to change the industry, companies across the world agree that the biggest room for improvement lies in the area of safety.

Possible innovations could include greater adoption of already widespread electronic stability programs (ESP) and anti-lock braking systems (ABS), or newer technologies to assist drivers on the road and help prevent the greatest cause of accidents – human error.

Automation is the biggest innovation opportunity, a term encompassing everything from driving assisted systems to fully-automated driver-less trucks.

Telematics is also an engaging prospect for road transport companies, who recognize that developments in areas such as smart fleet management could optimize operations and cut costs.

Overall, the vast majority of the industry believes that improved safety for drivers will be a key benefit brought by technology and innovation. But, at the same time, they are mindful of the difference that continued improvements to the optimization and efficiency, as well as environmental-sustainability, of their operations will make. New fleet management solutions, new digital platforms for vehicles and telematics on board will boost productivity.

Greater engine efficiency is seen as the biggest opportunity when it comes to environmental benefits.

Transport companies are particularly excited – and surprisingly optimistic – about a future with autonomous trucks. Expectations are that these will become a viable option within the next decade, or even confident of this happening in the next five years.

However, although transport companies are excited about the potential of vehicle automation specifically, the reality on the ground is that adoption is patchy. There is a long way to go before driver-less trucks are a safe, secure and sustainable option worldwide.

For automation, as with all technology-driven innovation, significant barriers remain.

Pockets of the industry have yet to embrace less advanced technologies and processes, and there is still much to do to fix the digital foundations of the industry before technology-driven innovation can be optimized properly.

Much work still needs to be done to guarantee successful worldwide technology adoption.

Generally, transport companies agree on the biggest challenges being cost and investment and a limited understanding of the available range of emerging technologies available.

Transport companies are optimistic for the future, but there is clearly still work to be done.

Promotion of economic growth, prosperity and safety through the sustainable mobility of people and goods and by bringing together operators, associations, industry suppliers and other stakeholders from around the world is the end goal of this industry.

First and foremost, to overcome the barriers that stand in the way of truly innovating the industry, greater collaboration is a must.

The industry will require collaboration from governments around the world in order to make successful adoption a reality. But they must in turn proactively engage with stakeholders when it comes to improving infrastructure and creating an effective regulation framework worldwide.

The road transport industry has to continue working hard to foster relationships between operators, service providers, manufacturers and governments to nurture a supportive environment for digitization.

The road transport industry has to remain committed to cultivating closer collaboration, greater harmonization, and better knowledge sharing with regulators and decision-makers so that the future public policy for the transport business is devised to achieve the public policies that it is set out for itself, it is evidence, science and data base, it is proportional to the objectives that they pursue and it is easily and cost-efficiently applicable.

With the contribution of Marie-Anne Cervoni, Karen Mazzoli and John Kidd


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