The Technical Innovation System of Self-Driving Vehicles in Road Freight Transport : Towards an understanding of Actor Dynamics, Sustainability Outcomes & New Competencies
Abstract: Over the last decade, advancements in connectivity, driving automation technology and electrification in combination with changing customer demands have started to rapidly transform the way in which goods are being transported. Following this fast rate of development, self-driving vehicles (SDVs) in road freight transport are anticipated to operate on public streets within the next couple of decades. The road freight transport sector is particularly feasible and attractive for driving automation technology. In this sector, there are strong economic incentives and rationales to implement SDVs in road freight transport as it presents possibilities to eliminate or drastically reduce driver costs, optimize vehicle usage rates and improve energy efficiency. Widespread adoption of SDVs is especially feasible for so called node-to-node freight transport flows, carried out between important logistics hubs. Node-to-node road freight transport is characterised by repetitive and predictive flows of goods, conducted in less complex driving environments such as highways and industrial areas. Although SDVs are predicted to bring significant impacts to the transport system and society, research on the potential influence of commercial use cases of SDVs in road freight transport is scarce. Research aiming to provide an overview of how different type of actors are involved in shaping the development, deployment and future operations of SDVs in road freight transport is also limited. This paper provides an understanding of system-level impacts of SDVs in node-to-node road freight transportation. It also provides a synthesized view of opportunities and barriers that actors are facing in relation to a large scale use of SDVs in road freight transport. This understanding makes it possible for stakeholders to identify expectations, needs, policies and strategies to govern a sustainable transitions of the transport system. In addition, the paper provides an investigation of requirements for new knowledge and competencies along with development. By using technical innovation systems (TIS) as a theoretical approach for the study, different components and aspects of the Swedish freight transport system are described and analysed in relation to SDV development and innovations. The TIS framework consists of a set of system components involved in the generation, diffusion and utilisation of a technology, and the relationships between the components. TIS components include actors, institutions, and networks, where networks describe the relationships between actors and institutions. In the paper, Sweden is used as case study. The results are based on 19 qualitative interviews with representatives from a broad spectrum of actors all being part of, or expected to be part of, a road freight transport system where SDVs is a central component. By analysing the interview results using the TIS framework, one of the main findings is that the public sector together with truck manufacturers are key actors in governing and enabling a commercialization of SDVs in road freight transport. Truck manufacturers have a great power in shaping the system by driving the technical development of SDVs, while government agencies are responsible for regulations and guidelines influencing the direction of development. The results further indicate that the introduction of SDVs in road freight transport would imply changing dynamics between the actors and other components of the TIS. One example is the role of road carriers and freight forwarders who are currently two of the most central actors in the freight transport system. In a transport system with SDVs, those actors may become less influential. Likewise, actors that are currently not having a central role in the freight transport system may become more influential. For instance, SDVs can catalyse a development towards electrification. This is a way of expanding the system boundaries and implies that new actors, such as energy companies and fuel retailing companies, begin to investigate how they could develop their business models to become a part of an evolving market. This is important in order to be able to compete and engage in a system with SDVs. Another finding is that there is a consensus among interviewed actors that SDVs must be adapted to the existing road infrastructure system rather than the other way around. At the same time, a completely new digital infrastructure system is being created around SDVs, which is necessary to handle the large amounts of data required for SDVs to operate. Furthermore, the connection between electrification and automation is somewhat ambiguous - some claim that there is clear symbiosis between the two technologies while others argue that they just happen coincided in time. Finally, the results indicate a lack of holistic and systematic perspectives among the actors on how the development and deployment of SDVs could contribute to sustainability in the freight transport system. It is critical to at this early state of implementation govern and shape technological development and business models in a direction that ensures a sustainable path for a future transport system with SDVs.
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