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Self-driving trucks: It’s not happening for at least a decade

Self-driving trucks: It’s not happening for at least a decade


Self-driving trucks are in the news a lot lately. Just this past week, an Embark Peterbilt truck drove itself from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, using retrofitted technology. A new startup named Ike just raised $52 million in financing. TuSimple, another autonomous truck startup, just got an additional $95 million, which raises their total to $178 million to date. Uber is partnering with Volvo to deliver freight in Arizona.

New developments keep on coming.

When should we start worrying about losing trucking jobs?

An article in the Los Angeles Times predicted the elimination of 1.7 million truck driving jobs in the next decade. However, Chris Spear, the president of the American Trucking Association, said it would be 20 to 25 years before fully autonomous commercial trucks are widely used. So it depends on who you talk to.

The technology may be making great strides, but a lot of stars will have to align before self-driving trucks can take over the roads. A few things will have to happen first, including:

  • Congress has not lifted restrictions on self-driving trucks the way they have on cars. Testing trucks is currently limited to the dozen or so states that allow it. There is no consistent set of rules across the country.
  • Legislators have to figure out the rules. As usual, the law is behind the technology. Who gets sued when a self-driving truck causes an accident or runs over someone? How will regulations on trucker hours need to adapt?
  • Even though Google has been testing autonomous cars since 2011, not everything they’ve learned in that testing applies to trucks. Trucks are more complicated to drive, bigger, and harder to stop. Even the placement of sensors is different and more complex.

At the end of the day, regulators, legislators, insurance companies, the Brotherhood of Teamsters, and others will have to come to terms on many things before the transition to self-driving fleets can happen.

A recent study concluded that automated vehicles won’t begin to seriously displace workers until the mid-2040s, and even then losses then will be relatively small.

In the meantime, all this technology being created to support trucks driving themselves can also help human drivers. Collision avoidance, stability control, and lane departure warnings, and other systems support drivers instead of replacing them, in the way an airplane’s auto-pilot system supports pilots.

Manufacturers are currently working on semi-autonomous technology, in which a truck driver is still needed. For example, the trucks Tesla is working on have a driver at the wheel while the computer accelerates, brakes, and steers. Drivers are still needed during pickup and delivery. Platooning, where automated trucks follow a lead truck driven by a driver, is another option being tested.

Because driving on long stretches of highway is easier to program than driving in the city, Embark is automating the highway driving, but having a driver when the truck gets off at an exit. Trucking and logistics companies may start developing transfer stations along the highway to support this long haul/short haul system.

Similarly, Waymo’s trucks still have a human driver for safety reasons, and anything up to a level 5 vehicle (which are years away from being introduced commercially), will still need a human to drive when the weather’s bad, or when there’s road construction.

Change is coming

Some changes that are coming well before self-driving trucks get here. Are you ready for these?

First of all, if you’re still using an AOBRD, or automatic onboard recording device, to track driver hours of service, you’ve got until December 2019 to switch to an ELD. And since you have to spend the money anyway, it might be a good time to consider upgrading your fleet management solution.

Second, the Canadian ELD mandate is around the corner. Here’s everything you need to know about the ELD mandate in Canada.

Finally, electric trucks are on their way. Tesla’s $150,000 price tag looks pretty good compared to a $125,000 diesel-powered truck, especially when you factor in the $200,000 in fuel savings over the life of the vehicle. And startup Thor Trucks recently introduced an electric semi-tractor that it claims is 70 percent cheaper in fuel costs and 60 percent cheaper to maintain per mile than a diesel-powered truck.

Right now, traditional manufacturers and tech companies are racing with each other to grab market share, so the changes will continue to come fast and furious. As KeepTruckin continues to empower fleets to be more tech forward, keep reading this blog as we help you keep up with the latest industry trends.

If you have any questions about the KeepTruckin fleet management platform, call at (844) 257 6396. Our 24/7 customer support team is always available to help you.

Author


Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell likes to take complex technology and explain it to people so it actually makes sense. She writes about technology, makes videos about technology, and when she’s not doing that, she contemplates our future robot overlords.