Self driving vehicles in the trucking industry; a phrase that either instills fear or elation when uttered to drivers/management/ownership of trucking companies. The Los Angeles Times has previously predicted that over 1.7 million truck driving jobs could be replaced by automated trucks in the next 10 years. That could lead to a ton of change in the staffing overhead for many transportation companies so what is really going on?
Let’s take a look at what is going on with autonomous trucks and some recent developments.
Autonomous Trucks are here…kinda.
Yes, this is not a vaporware technology that is only spoken of but never leaves the lab. Autonomous trucks are currently being tested by a number of technology players and are starting to see increasing levels of traction within the industry and already on the roads. For example, Locomation, a tech start-up out of Pennsylvania, is launching it’s self driving tandem trucks this spring, with one driver controlling two trucks. TuSimple, a San Diego company, has already started expanding its self-driving operations with one of their investors, UPS. And these are only a pair of dozens of start ups moving forward on the technology, not including big players such as Daimler, Tesla and Volvo. Self driving freight trucks are here and are not going away anytime soon, even if not everyone in the industry is ready or has access.
Drivers do not need to be replaced at this point
Things are moving towards less driver involvement with each load but that does not mean there is a group of robots taking over for all drivers at this point. This technology is still being adapted for mass roll out and may take a number of years to really embed itself fully into the industry. Also, even when it does happen, many positions may not be affected at all, such as loading, customer service and remote repairs. Like many new technologies, re-trained and reintegrated skill sets will be required to accommodate a shifting industry. Imagine drivers being used to map routes and program trucks instead of sitting behind the wheel. The example of buggy drivers being concerned about the gas powered car proves how workers in an industry must adapt and those who adapt the best flourish.
Do not fool yourself; the industry is getting ready
With all the resources and testing being dedicated to automated driving freight trucks, this is going to happen. Not only is tech and automotive companies pushing forward but also legislation is trying to help enable the launch of this technology, albeit much slower. Some preliminary rules are being assessed and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao was at CES 2020 in Las Vegas to unveil the fourth version of of the DOT’s automated vehicle vision. Even though very few concrete regulations have been formally developed to enable freeways to have unfettered fleets of autonomous trucks swarming, this is something that will develop quickly.
At the time of this post, the industry looks primed to move forward on this technology but as things could dramatically change over the coming years, or even months, so we will try to keep current updates as best we can with any new developments that may affect the trucking industry.