Ben Thomas

Ben Thomas

Director, National Valuation

t: +44 207 182 2663

Judy Zhu

Judy Zhu

Associate Director, National Valuation

t: +44 207 182 2683

In the last few posts, we covered the topic of Drones. From this post onward, we are going to have a look at the use of autonomous vehicles in the logistics industry. In this first post, we will focus on the current development before we move on to the future outlook in the later posts.


Autonomous vehicles on the road

When we talk about an autonomous vehicle, the first impression is usually a self-driving car, but autonomous vehicles include self-driving trucks, vans, cars, robots, etc. Autonomous vehicles can be used on as well as off road, and even in warehouses and construction sites.

There are many players in this field at moment and we have briefly summarised the companies which are developing autonomous trucks and their latest technology.



Car manufacturers

For car manufacturers, developing autonomous vehicle is a natural progression. They have first mover advantage, and should have more know-how and existing resources than new entrants into the automobile industry.

In January 2011, Volvo participated in the SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, in which truck platooning technology was firstly demonstrated. Truck platooning is where a line of trucks automatically follow a lead truck which is driven by a human driver. This technology is an early initiative paving the way for today’s autonomous vehicle.



In September 2018, Volvo introduced the autonomous and electric concept vehicle – Vera. Other than being autonomous and electric, Vera can connect with others of its kind. Because of this connectivity, Vera is ideally suited to logistics areas, such as ports, factories and logistics parks, where all the autonomous vehicles in the same place can be controlled centrally.



In July 2014, Daimler announced the “Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025” plan. The latest update on this plan is the launch of the new semi-autonomous Actros truck in September 2018. These are installed with Active Drive Assist technology, which can operate automatic braking, accelerating and steering. This technology “paves the way to automated driving”.

In November 2017, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, unveiled its electric semi-autonomous truck prototype – Tesla Semi, having first mentioned the concept in the Tesla 2016 Master Plan. Compared to the autonomous vehicles by other manufacturers, Tesla claims “Semi is the safest, most comfortable truck ever” thanks to its advanced software and hardware design.

Tech companies

A lot of tech companies have also joined the game, since nobody wants to miss out on this opportunity. The competition of designing autonomous vehicles should also drive improvement in software development.

In August 2016 Uber acquired Otto, the tech start-up focuses on autonomous long-haul trucks. Otto set the record of the longest continuous autonomous truck journey (212 km) from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins in October 2016 (Embark is the latest record holder). This is one of the earliest initiatives of tech companies in developing autonomous trucks. However, this autonomous truck project was cancelled in July 2018, with an aim to focus the resources on developing autonomous cars, before it could be utilised in the Uber Freight business.

Other tech companies like Nvidia and Baidu have also entered this field. They work with existing truck manufacturers to make their trucks autonomous. In the collaboration, they develop software and offer technical solutions by utilising their in-house resources, such as technical talents and databases. For example, in March 2017, Nvidia announced that it is working with PACCAR, the global truck manufacturer, to develop autonomous trucks. In April 2018, Baidu’s Apollo, the open platform for autonomous vehicle developers, collaborated with CiDi, a Chinese truck start-up, to complete its first autonomous geo-fenced highways drive.



Current autonomous truck tests mostly take place on motorways or controlled areas. Compared to autonomous cars, autonomous trucks generally face less complicated driving scenarios, such as pedestrians, traffic lights, cyclists, etc.

Various technologies are being used and developed to enable autonomous trucks to operate certain driving tasks. These include: identifying lanes, keeping distance from the nearby vehicles, changing lanes, responding to emergency vehicles, braking in case of obstacles detected, etc. At present, autonomous trucks still require human drivers to sit in the driving seats. This requires the software to identify moments when they must alert the human driver to take back control.

Identifying lanes






Changing Lanes






Braking in case of obstacles detected





Keeping distance from the nearby vehicles





Some of the fundamental hardware required to develop autonomous trucks include: Camera, Radar, Navigation, LiDAR Sensor, IPC. LiDAR sensors measure distance by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses. IPC is an industrial scale computer.



Most car manufactures are considering autonomous vehicles now, as are companies from other industries. There are many start-ups to have been established with an attempt to take a piece of the pie in this industry. Next time, we will take a look at the other autonomous logistics vehicles on the road and off the road.

If you are interested in more details of this report or our other logistics reports, please contact Ben Thomas, Director of CBRE National Valuation – Logistics & Distribution, or Judy Zhu, Associate Director of CBRE National Valuation.

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