RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Driverless trucks are more than just a fantasy on the drawing board. Research is going full bore on how to achieve that goal. 

As of today, the trucking industry is already taking its first steps toward self-driving trucks, but there are problems and concerns about fully autonomous trucks.

The day is coming when that 18-wheeler rolling down the highway won’t have a driver behind the wheel, it’ll be running autonomously and that frightens some.

“To me, you always need somebody driving,” said motorist Jonathan Davis. “I mean, that’s the safety of everything.” 

“I feel like the driverless trucks, you have more to worry about with the sensors, and they may not work,” he said. “I don’t agree with it.” 

We’ve already taken a number of steps in the direction of autonomous vehicles. 

In some places, tiny robot delivery units are running up and down sidewalks bringing fast food and other items to customers.  

In Arkansas, delivery-size trucks are running on secondary streets. 

Walmart vehicles are hauling goods from point to point without a driver sitting in the cab.

“They’re on normal roads that we use, but they’re restricted to that middle mile operation going from a fulfillment center or a distribution center to a store,” said Professor Chris Vermillion, Mechanical and Aerospace engineering expert at NCSU, “The routes are very well known, and they’re highly contained.”

The day is coming when our highways will see driverless 18-wheelers next to your car and mine. 

There are different levels of vehicle automation and they are divided into five categories


It’s a single automated system like cruise control.  


It’s where a vehicle can steer and accelerate. A human can take control at any time. 


A vehicle can perform most driving tasks. A human override is still required.  


It’s where a vehicle performs all driving tasks under specific conditions. Human Override is an option. 


Where the vehicle performs all driving tasks under all conditions. With this, no human interaction is required.

The Clevon ARC is an autonomous robot carrier -being tested in Texas to run on local roads and neighborhood streets with human oversight in a control center.

Think of it as level 4. It has a proprietary operating system.

“The technology consists of cameras, radars, GPS,” said Clevon CEO Sander Agur. “We have a 4G modem as well.”

This unit is designed to make deliveries for the so-called last mile from an item’s last shipped destination to your door.

Agur told CBS 17 Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia that the ARCs have supervisors overseeing them so that the unit does what it’s supposed to do.

“They monitor fleets of autonomous robot carriers, and they interact with the carriers,” said Agur. “They can take full manual control at any point of time.”

Even though the Clevon delivery ARC has a person supervising ten of them at a time in a central control office, Professor Vermillion is worried about it.

“That system is going to be significantly more challenging to implement and get working robustly because there are just so many routes from a store to the end customers,” he said. “You have hundreds of thousands of routes, fairly unpredictable routes that will have to be managed.”

Vermillion said for larger vehicles, like 18-wheelers, level 2 partial automation and level 3 conditional automation for trucks where the driver remains in a vehicle is more feasible right now given current conditions.

“The driver has to be alert, “he said. “That is well within the scope of what’s available today in trucks and also passenger vehicles in terms of autonomy.”

There are self-driving systems where the lead truck is operated by a driver and the 18-wheeler following it will be fully autonomous.

Other companies are working on variations of self-driving 18-wheelers, but the problem is there are different regulations in every state with no central oversight.

“There needs to be either a rigorous set of standards or a review board that’s available that can review proposals for autonomous vehicles,” said Vermillion.

There’s a bottom-line incentive for fleets to adopt fully autonomous vehicles and get the driver out of the truck, but as of today, that requires higher levels of autonomy than we can provide right now.

However, as autonomous technology improves over the next five years, experts say we’re more likely to see the percentage of driverless trucks increase faster than driverless automobiles because for driverless trucks, the industry has a big cost savings at hand and that will drive the innovation.