Can Self-Driving Trucks Really Replace Human Drivers?

Self-driving or fully automated vehicles have become the newest frontier for tech. Already, vehicles that are at least partially automated are available to the general public. Many speculate that it is only a matter of time until fully automated vehicles hit the streets. Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are currently testing fully automated taxis. Otto, a tech startup created by former Google executives, is researching fully automated trucks. Even more than ridesharing, fully automated vehicles would have fundamental and serious effects on the trucking industry. Automation could potentially make truck driving an obsolete profession.

How Fast is Automation Coming to Trucking?

Trucking is widely believed to be the first industry affected by automation. The trucking industry makes around $700 billion annually, and close to a third of these costs are going towards truck driver salaries. If fully automated trucks come around, companies can eliminate all those costs associated with compensating drivers. So the reasons for automating trucks are quite financially compelling. Also, long-haul rigs are mostly driven on highways, so these vehicles are easier to automate without requiring a human driver behind the wheel.

Otto, which Uber recently bought, is equipping rigs with an “Otto kit” that tests automated driving on highways. So far, only one truck has been allowed for testing. The system uses cameras, sensors, computer software, and laser light technology to drive. An automated truck can move 24/7 without stopping, as opposed to a human driver who needs to stop to sleep. Freight companies would be able to charge more for shorter delivery times with automated trucks.

The system is not perfect yet and is not conducted without humans. However, tech companies like Otto says a system like theirs would eventually allow big rigs to navigate highways and pick up and drop off loads without needing human intervention.

Should Drivers Be Concerned?

Automated trucks, if it actually happens, would benefit freight companies and devastate truck driving jobs. Some tech companies say that drivers may be allowed to sleep in the back just to keep a human eye on the process. But that concept has been controversial so far.

The automation process may be on the fast track, but it’s still not sophisticated enough to replace actual human drivers. Therefore, truckers don’t need to be concerned in the immediate future. Most automated trucks can only navigate on highways. The software cannot meet the unique challenges other types of routes present to driving. Experienced truckers know that driving a rig involves many delicate moves, maneuvers, and facing unpredictable circumstances on the road.

It’s possible that trucks may be fully automated in a decade or two. But, right now, the industry still very much needs human drivers.

A Better Solution

There could actually be a better solution to some of the challenges the trucking industry faces. One big issue is managing driving and sleep. Truckers still use an outdated system to arrange loads, which is time-consuming. New apps like HWY Pro, co-developed by Bill Busbice, could change that for the better. HWY Pro can make organizing loads much more efficient and save time for truckers to rest. Truckers can use the app to “Just Drive,” says Mr. Busbice.

 

Innovations like HWY Pro could even help the trucking industry address the driver shortage problem it has by making the job more appealing to new recruits. Freight companies can use apps like HWY Pro to increase efficiency in hauling without threatening some of the last remaining well-paid jobs for middle-class Americans.

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