Autonomous Trucking and the Trucking Industry
Truck drivers are the heart and soul of America. They are committed to making sure every corner of the U.S. is stocked with the necessary resources and products they’re entrusted with hauling. Without truck drivers, consumers would essentially have no goods to purchase from stores.
Recently, the news has been inundated with the discussion of autonomous trucks, from a successful Uber beer delivery in previous years, to Elon Musk announcing Tesla's autonomous vehicles. So, what does all of this mean? What will this change in the trucking industry? How fast is this new autonomous truck going to hit the road?
What is Autonomous Trucking?
Decades ago, autonomous vehicles would have sounded like a thing right out of a science fiction movie. With the push of a button, the “driver” can sit back while the truck does all the actual work. These technologically outfitted trucks take control of the wheel; complete with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) technology that includes self-driving software with updated radar, power steering, cruise control, automated gear changing, and a stereo camera.
A specially trained driver, knowledgeable in the new technology, will be required to stay in the cabin, just in case. While this is technology at one of the most advanced stages of our time, we still need to err on the side of caution when allowing a self-driving truck to share the road alongside other vehicles and their drivers.
In October 2017, an Uber-owned start-up company called Otto, partnering with Budweiser, drove an autonomous truck down Interstate 25 for 120 miles to deliver 2,000 cases of beer. The truck driver assigned to this route from Ft. Collins, Colorado to Colorado Springs was merely a passenger on this mission. It went flawlessly, and there was no need for the driver to override anything.
Why is the Industry Trying Autonomous Trucking?
The trucking industry is buzzing over autonomous trucks. Why? It comes down to the simple fact that there is a tremendous shortage of qualified truck drivers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states employment growth is projected to remain at 4 percent by 2031. The greatest employment opportunities will remain in the oil and gas industry. However, with increasing consumer demand, the predicted growth of 4 percent may not suffice.
Another reason that has prompted the industry to consider autonomous trucking is the amount of trucking-related accidents and deaths on the road. These can be caused by mentally and physically fatigued drivers, and the emotional and financial toll is incredibly notable. It is predicted that autonomous trucks can reduce these accidents by offering drivers opportunities for breaks that they otherwise would not get.
The trucking industry brings in over 700 billion USD per year with one-third of that going into the truck drivers’ bank accounts. Eliminating drivers means companies may be able to keep more profits. For now, there is no need for concern. Those autonomous trucks may seem like they have it under control, but the reality is there will continue to be a need for truckers trained to ride in the autonomous vehicles. And it could remain that way for a while.
Should You be Worried About Autonomous Trucking Stealing Jobs?
“You are not going to see a truck without a driver in it for a long time,” Ted Scott, American Trucking Association
There are a lot of people out there whose livelihoods rely on the trucking industry. There are over 2 million truckers in the United States alone. It’s the Number 1 job in 29 states, no immediate job shortages are predicted.
In some respects, technology has already disrupted employment opportunities. Think about agriculture: 200 years ago, 90% of the U.S. population worked in agriculture. This number decreased to 38% in the 1900s, and now it hovers at around 2%. Does America need less production from agriculture? No, but technology slowly substituted most of the manual tasks involved in the agricultural sector through advancements in technology.
The same trend may happen with trucking, but it also won’t be overnight. Trucks may, some day, completely drive themselves. Until then, the trucker shortage will only grow, and, if anything, there will be more and more jobs available for truckers.
Examples such as Daimler and Peloton Technologies only confirm this diagnostic. These companies in California are entertaining the idea of manufacturing self-driving truck caravans with just one driver. Tesla, Apple, Intel, and Nvidia have also joined the race for artificially intelligent autonomous trucks, with Apple and Tesla asking for California to allow autonomous trucks heavier than the 10,000-pound weight limit that is already regulated.
Their programs are expected to be about a decade away from happening. Also keep in mind, the truck driver, in the traditional sense, may not have actually to drive the vehicle. Most likely instead, they will be behind the “wheel” maintaining paperwork and doing their scheduling. Human resources will still be a necessity in the industry for pick up, delivery, and managing the transaction of the load within the truck.
How will Autonomous Trucking Impact the Trucking Industry?
“We view self-driving trucks as the future, and we want to be a part of that,” James Sembrot, Anheuser-Busch senior director of logistics strategy
Whether we like it or not, change happens. Trucking is no exception and companies will adapt to the changes. The question remains what type of impact will autonomous trucking have in the trucking industry? As with any drastic change, there are benefits and drawbacks.
Autonomous trucking fulfills a need. There will always be a demand for transporting goods from one area to another. And because there are massive amounts of job vacancies in the industry, something had to happen that would keep status quo.
If people aren't able to do the job, then the industry was forced to compensate somehow. Artificial intelligence was seen as a solution, especially without the need to eat, sleep, or spend time off. Yet, the reality of driverless trucks is still decades away. There are still so many factors involved, such as the regulations and the massive amounts of legalities, that it could take ages to see any truly noticeable impact on jobs available to truck drivers.
Autonomous trucks don't mean trucking jobs are going to disappear in the near future. As is the case with all advancements in technology, they are simply a part of the process of an ever-evolving industry. In the meantime, the trucking industry is looking for drivers to fill the gap.
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