Preparing for Autonomous Trucks - The Road to Autonomy

Preparing for Autonomous Trucks

Matt McLelland, VP of Sustainability and Innovation, Covenant joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy podcast to discuss why Covenant always has a seat at the table as it relates to new technologies and how they are preparing for autonomous trucks.

The conversation begins with Matt discussing how he is currently thinking about autonomous trucks as it relates to over-the-road operations.

We figured that we needed to have a seat at the table, because autonomy was going to be a way to potentially augment our business. We have been involved since the very beginning.

– Matt McLelland

Having a seat at the table and understanding the business is highly important to Matt as he shares insights from his recent four-day ride-along with a professional over-the-road driver.

It gives you more context and experience into that whole kind of analogy of walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes.

– Matt McLelland

As part of their having a seat at the table strategy, Covenant has a partnership with Aurora where the two companies are actively exploring the integration of Aurora’s virtual driver (Aurora Horizon) into Covenant’s operations. It’s not just from a technical perspective, it is also from a operations perspective.

In order for autonomous trucks to scale, there has to be standardized operations around launching autonomous trucks from different sites. This is because there will be different technicians and employees at each site operating autonomous trucks for a variety of companies as the depots/launch sites will most likely be shared.

Once the industry agrees on a shared launch strategy, the next issue that the industry is going to have to agree on is fuel.

Diesel and the value proposition of autonomy is asset utilization, making that truck stay on the road to cover the most miles possible as efficiently as possible.

– Matt McLelland

With the clear value proposition that diesel has for autonomous trucking, society is shifting to low-carbon solutions, opening the door for renewable diesel. While renewable diesel offers a bridge solution, there is not enough renewable diesel in the market today to support the wide-scale adoption.

It’s the perfect bridge to zero emissions, its a solution available today that will get us to a much better place then where we are [today].

– Matt McLelland

While it’s a solution, it comes at a premium cost to shippers that is being coined the “green premium”. The green premium is opening the door to autonomy as an autonomous truck can operate longer hours with less idling time and more efficiently. Covenant estimates that autonomous trucks can operate 8% to 12% more efficiently per truck.

On Covenant’s autonomous journey today, today the company has partnerships with Aurora and Torc Robotics as they actively prepare for a future with autonomy.

Wrapping up the conversation, Matt shares his thoughts on sustainability.

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Recorded on Friday, April 11, 2023