A little more than a year ago on this blog, we asked the
Self-Driving Trucks the Future of Shipping?” Recent technology advances
and business partnerships have made it clear that yes, self-driving trucks are the
future. The question is now, “When is the future?”
Google’s self-driving car project has logged more than 1.5
million miles in autonomous mode with no accidents resulting in major injury or
death. The US Army has tested self-driving technology with truck convoys. Uber is
road testing a fleet of cars equipped to drive themselves in Pittsburgh. Its
competitor, Lyft, is partnering with General Motors to develop self-driving
How is self-driving technology going to impact shipping? Google
already has a patent for a “package delivery platform” which suggests its
technology will be in trucks soon. The US Army wants to deploy self-driving
convoys carrying troops and supplies in the next 10 to 15 years. Uber recently
purchased a startup company called “Otto,” with the mission to make every truck
a self-driving truck. Its goal is self-driving trucks on our highways in as
little as two years.
cars have gotten more attention, but self-driving trucks will have a much more
substantial impact on the economy. Trucks move nearly 70% of all the freight
tonnage in the US and involve 3 million heavy-duty trucks and drivers, using 37
billion gallons of diesel fuel to move 9.2 billion tons of freight over 279
million miles of roadway (American Trucking Associations). The savings
potential means trucks may become automated sooner than cars.
engineers at Otto believe the commercial trucking world can be automated first
and their goal is to have trucks drive themselves on highways,
leaving city driving, docking and parking to human drivers. The concept is just
like automated pilots that fly jets at high altitudes while leaving the trickier
takeoffs and landings to trained human pilots.
vehicles have several challenges to overcome before they can appear on the
roads. First, the technology to make a vehicle autonomous is expensive. Second,
consumer trust in fully self-driving vehicle technology is still very low, and third,
government regulations are relatively nonexistent, although California recently
proposed regulations that stipulate that a fully autonomous vehicle must have a
driver in it at all times.
The use of autonomous trucks would overcome many of the stringent
“hours of service” regulations in place. Use of self-driving trucks would allow
the driver to get rest while the truck drives itself, speeding up deliveries and overall productivity.
Autonomous trucks are more fuel efficient due to computer-controlled acceleration and braking systems that optimize
their speed. Conservative estimates predict
self-driving trucks consume 10 - 15% less fuel.
Self-driving technology can increase the safety of the
driver and the load. A report published by the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (NHTSA)
assigns blame to operator error in 94% of truck accidents. Between 10
and 20% percent of the roughly 4,000 fatal truck accidents are linked to driver
fatigue, based on estimates gathered by the National Academies of Sciences,
Engineering and Medicine, and self-driving
trucks never get tired.
The impact to employment
While it might seem like self-driving trucks would result
in increased unemployment, that may not be the case. There were more than 48,000
unfilled driver openings last year. If the trend continues, the driver shortage
may increase to 150,000 by 2024. The shortage is a result of older drivers
retiring, fewer people entering the profession, and increased demand to move
freight. Self-driving trucks can fill the gap and could attract more tech-savvy
and younger people to become drivers.
Otto is looking for 1,000 volunteers to have self-driving
kits installed on their cabs (at no cost, of course) to test and fine-tune the
technology. Volunteers are expected to take control of the truck if the
technology fails or if driving conditions make it unsafe to remain in
autonomous mode. Otto plans to test its equipment on volunteers’ trucks for the
next 12 to 18 months.
Whenever self-driving trucks become viable, PartnerShip will
be here to help you focus on your business by managing the complicated parts of
shipping. To stay competitive, ship smarter with PartnerShip! Contact us at
800-599-2902 or get a quote