The Self-Driving Future of Trucking?
Self-driving vehicles would seem to be the exclusive province of cars. It sounds like a technology on a par with hybrid fuel technology, magnetic drive suspension, and other bells and whistles associated with high-priced, fast-moving passenger vehicles.
In short, self-driving technology seems like something that would never cross over into the commercial trucking industry.
But in fact, this technology could figure prominently in the future of trucking.
How Self-Driving Technology Could Change Trucking
According to a report in the New York Times, a Silicon Valley start-up is betting that the huge financial investment in self-driving technology is a better fit for the commercial trucking industry than for individual vehicles.
The company, called Otto, was started by two former Google employees involved in the software giant’s self-driving car project. These founders started Otto last January—since then, their company has expanded to 41 employees. They are testing their technology on three Volvo big rigs equipped with cameras, radars, and spinning laser sensors. As of May 2016, they had already logged over 10,000 miles on their self-driving technology.
The future of trucking is already moving at a rapid pace, as the trucking industry is seeing more and more automation on the “back end”—scheduling, planning, all the logistics that go into getting loads from point A to point B.
The biggest positive change that self-driving technology could bring is to improve the safety of truck drivers and reduce trucking accidents. Automated features might include a programmed “end of day” that pulls the truck off the road after the driver has reached the legal limit for hours logged.
How Do Truckers Feel About This?
The culture of commercial truck driving is notoriously resistant to change. And with good reason—driving a commercial truck requires extensive training and involves a great deal of skilled multi-tasking. In other words, it’s no small matter to introduce a new element into a commercial truck driver’s protocol.
Recent changes such as GPS technology and electronic log books have met with a great deal of grumbling from veteran truck drivers. But in recent years, the industry has had an influx of younger drivers, for whom this new technology is already second nature.
The biggest fear, of course, for truck drivers is that self-driving technology could make their jobs obsolete. But industry veterans and experts agree that it’s unlikely you could ever completely eliminate the driver from the truck.
No matter how sophisticated technology becomes, there will always be moments where industry experts are necessary to troubleshoot the problems that inevitably arise. As one driver wrote, “Somebody’s still gotta figure out why truck #452 has been stopped in Topeka for three days without moving and figure out what to do about it.”