This article is a quick review of some of the technology involved in self-driving trucks. It looks at the problems, opportunities, and business models associated with the concept. You can also read this article to find out why self-driving trucks will revolutionize the industry.
The technology of self-driving trucks is set to revolutionize the $700 billion trucking industry, touching almost every aspect of a global society. These autonomous trucks will not only save money for companies but also increase the safety of trucks and fuel efficiency. But with such benefits come concerns about job displacement, especially among the millions of truck drivers. Until the technology has proven itself, this industry will be characterized by low barriers to entry.
Embark, a startup in San Francisco, is one company developing self-driving trucks. The company’s approach is to free up truck drivers’ time by automating highway driving and allowing them to take over the control once they reach the end of the highway. Currently, Embark is testing its trucks between Palm Springs, California, and El Paso, Texas. Embark’s trucks have a patented autonomous technology that allows them to drive independently without any driver intervention.
While there are still many questions about the viability of autonomous trucks, the technology is poised to create several new jobs. While the trucking industry has undergone significant changes over the past few decades, self-driving trucks promise to address some of these problems. According to Raj Venkatesan, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, autonomous trucks will still have drivers in the cab who can handle mechanical problems and speak to police in the event of an accident.
While the technology remains in its early stages, leading truck manufacturers are partnering with robotics firms to develop the necessary technology. For example, Daimler recently acquired a small American car company called Torc Robotics and collaborated with Caterpillar to build its self-driving truck technology. In addition, other companies are acquiring smaller startups like Waymo and Embark to develop self-driving trucks for commercial use.
Self-driving trucks promise to streamline the trucking industry, but are they safe? The World Economic Forum recently released an article regarding the problems of autonomous trucks. First, there are privacy concerns. The vehicles’ software and computers can allow fleet companies to keep track of all data about drivers, trucks, and assets. Hackers can use this data to steal personal information or override control functions. Second, human drivers can’t identify hackers unless inside the truck.
A human truck driver’s ability to handle unforeseen situations makes him a better truck driver than a software-enabled vehicle. In addition to experience and skill, truckers also have an extraordinary presence of mind. In these situations, autonomous cars cannot handle the same level of sophistication. For instance, a human driver can redirect a route diversion due to an unforeseen emergency or calamity, while a software-enabled autonomous truck cannot do the same.
Two key factors have highlighted self-driving trucks: cost reduction and increased freight capacity. Self-driving trucks are also expected to be safer than human-driven trucks, which are prohibited by law from driving longer than 11 hours daily. However, a recent McKinsey report found that Level 5 autonomy offers a 25% cost reduction. The cost of higher autonomy levels varies wildly, depending on the complexity of the technology.
While technology advances continue, some truck OEMs may also consider entering into partnerships with ecosystem players, such as e-commerce companies, truck stop operators, and telecoms. These partnerships could help self-driving truck fleets access and upgrade necessary infrastructure. For example, 5G connectivity could provide remote maintenance for autonomous trucks. Moreover, autonomous trucks could be more profitable than human-driven vehicles, as they do not require human drivers to drive them.
A recent report by Goldman Sachs predicted the loss of millions of jobs worldwide due to autonomous vehicles. While it is true that the advent of self-driving trucks could put many truck drivers out of work, there is no evidence to suggest that they will do so completely. Instead, self-driving trucks could create plenty of jobs for people working in the field of self-driving vehicles.
But how will the transition from human drivers to robots go? For one thing, trucks are highly corporate-driven. There are market forces at work that go far beyond those of private cars. If self-driving trucks can drive themselves, you can easily replace truckers. The trucks themselves would need little rest, so the need for human drivers would decrease. The trucks will also take less time to complete their routes.