The War Wages On for the Self Driving Truck

If you would have asked about the possibility of a self driving car 20 years ago, chances are good that you would have been laughed at. If you asked the same question ten years ago, there might not have been quite as much laughing. If you asked that question now, however, you’d realize that the possibility is closer than you think.

Anheuser Busch and Uber have the first commercial delivery to be made without the use of a truck driver

Last October, Anheuser Busch teamed up with Uber’s recently acquired Otto to make its first autonomous delivery of beer in Colorado, marking the first commercial delivery to be made without the use of a truck driver. While the experiment was halted after its first run, we have to begin to consider the implications of what this means.

The Future is Closer than You Think

There’s an argument brewing between the trucking industry and Silicon valley as to how soon we can expect driverless trucks to start rolling down the freeway on a regular basis. The truckers believe that the conversion won’t be happening any time soon, at least not in the next 40 years. Software developers and tech experts have a different vision of the future however. They expect that most of the major “obstacles” are simply a few speed bumps along the way and that driverless technology will be hitting the roads in as little as three years.

Software developers and tech experts have a different vision of the future however

So just what are these obstacles or speed bumps? Mostly it’s regulation at this point. The technology is practically here to support driverless trucks. With a infrastructure changes, mostly the addition of an extra slow lane to allow regular traffic to navigate around the lumbering pace of the automated vehicle, as well as on and off ramps for the drivers to initiate the auto driving mode, regulations are currently the biggest hurdle to clear. As with any new technology, there isn’t much of a precedent to work with, which means regulations will take longer to establish, place, and modify.

The technology is practically here to support driverless trucks.

“The death of a driver using Tesla Motors Inc.’s autopilot system in May has focused political attention on self-driving vehicles and hastened calls for regulations to keep pace with the technological advances. The U.S. Transportation Department released policy guidelines for autonomous driving, which acknowledged the technology’s life-saving potential while warning of a world of “human guinea pigs” according to an article from Bloomberg Technology.

Understanding the Implications

Make no mistake, the impact of driverless technology is huge. On one hand, truck driving makes up roughly 1% of all employment in the United States, which is a pretty sizeable amount when you consider the amount of paying jobs out there. If drivers are replaced by automation, that’s a pretty substantial amount of people out of work.

Truck driving makes up roughly 1% of all employment in the United States

However, on the other hand, you have to consider the fact that the price of goods is largely determined by transportation costs. The higher the cost, the more expensive the product. Given just how much automated driving can cut from the cost of transportation, the price of consumer goods would drop considerably, thereby raising the quality of life for everyone.

Automated driving can cut from the cost of transportation.

This is the part of the argument that doesn’t have a clear and concise victor. While raising the quality of life is important and necessary, the unemployment spike caused by driver’s being replaced, will have a serious impact on the health of the economy.

“While the efficiency gains are real — too real to pass up — the technology will have tremendous adverse effects as well. There are currently more than 1.6 million Americans working as truck drivers, making it the most common job in 29 states. The loss of jobs representing 1 percent of the U.S. workforce will be a devastating blow to the economy. And the adverse consequences won’t end there. Gas stations, highway diners, rest stops, motels and other businesses catering to drivers will struggle to survive without them,” according to a post from Techcrunch.

This technology is just on the horizon and will be here in years, not decades.

While the regulatory guidelines are still being sorted, there is no mistaking the fact that this technology is just on the horizon and will be here in years, not decades. The trucking industry is going to be facing a radical shift in the immediate future. Whether or not they are prepared is another matter entirely.

 

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