As reported by the Texas Tribune, the Autonomous Freight Shuttle System was developed in response to a request from the federal government, which asked engineers to create a system for moving goods without the need for trucks on the highway.
The system works by using automated, electric shuttles that move trailers along an elevated highway, where they are far above passenger vehicles on the road below.
According to the system’s designers, the transporters could be used to move freight up to 500 miles at a time, with transporters capable of moving up to 70,000 pounds of cargo at 60 miles per hour. Because the shuttle system is powered by electricity, designers say it uses one-third of the energy of the diesel-powered semi-trucks currently on the road. The project’s financial backers would like to build a five-mile system, with a vision to expand to 20 miles eventually.
In addition to being more environmentally friendly, proponents of the system say it also has the potential to reduce the number of traffic crashes involving semi-trucks. Because the system is completely driverless, it could also eliminate accidents caused by drowsy truck drivers. The system is also designed to operate around the clock.
Critics of the shuttle system say it will be too costly to build — currently, there are no elevated transport systems in the country, which means they would need to be built from scratch. One cost estimate puts the transport system at $13 million per mile, with the overall cost totaling $150 million for a 12-mile stretch in El Paso-Juarez. Other states have unveiled plans to reduce truck emissions by moving to electric trucks and biofuels. In California, for example, state lawmakers have a plan to roll out over 100,000 zero-emission trucks by 2030.