Self-driving technology breakthroughs have already reached the public with companies like Waymo, General Motors, and Argo AI, making their way into headlines. These are the companies leading the change towards a future of autonomous vehicles. Taking this into account, it's not hard to believe that companies in the trucking industry are also looking into developing this technology.
Embark is one of the few companies leading in the self-driving truck industry. In February 2018, this huge freight-moving corporation demonstrated their progress when their modified truck traveled from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida, which is around 2400 miles. This milestone is a significant step compared to their prior test route, which ran from Los Angeles to El Paso, Texas.
TuSimple, another company engaging in the self-driving truck industry, also increased its funding this year to an additional $120 million. The company also began testing Autonomous trucks in Arizona.
Autonomous vehicles have undeniably accelerated us forward to the future. A surging number of companies are going public with their commitments to developing this technology. One can't help but wonder what this holds for what is about to come.
So how will self-driving trucks change the world?
A Solution To The US Logistics Labor Shortage
According to the American Trucking Associations, the trucking industry has been struggling with truck drivers shortage for the past fifteen years. From their analysis, the most significant factor to this is the relatively high average age of the existing truck drivers. The trucking industry sees a lot of drivers retire without sufficient replacement.
Despite the shortage, many carriers remain highly selective of their recruits, taking professionalism and safety into high consideration.
Companies see self-driving truck technology as a viable solution to the labor shortage issue. Although it is possible considering the recent breakthroughs in this sector, fully automated trucking is still far into the future.
There are five levels of autonomous driving starting from level one, which still requires a considerable amount of human intervention up to level five, a stage that begs for absolutely no human intervention. Embark is currently at level two and is in constant development to reach level four.
Attaining the fifth level of autonomous driving stays far into the future. If it arrives, this technology may help reduce the required number of drivers which would relatively lessen the labor shortage in the trucking sector.
Will Self-Driving Trucks Make Drivers Obsolete?
The risk of job loss due to automation is undoubtedly real. Some critics may say that these automated trucks will cause a large number of truck drivers to lose their jobs, but as mentioned above, full automation is still far into the future. Considering today's current technology or the level we are currently in, human intervention and supervision are still highly required.
Truck drivers do more than merely driving and maneuvering. They provide genuine customer service, which AI can't replicate. It's common for truck drivers to engage in casual conversations while completing their tasks, such as loading and unloading freight.
Although automated tasks such as maintaining logs, paperwork, route navigation, checking safety protocols already exist, some activities would still require some human touch.
The emergence of self-driving trucks will create a human-robot partnership. An excellent example of this is Embark's 18-wheeler autonomous trucks with the ability to drive themselves while on interstate highways. But when they reach nearby cities where navigation becomes tricky, a skilled human driver takes over.
Self-Driving Trucks Could Make The Roads Safer
A truck driver is responsible for being alert and attentive at all times while being behind the wheel. Spending weeks on the highway takes a considerable toll on the driver's vigilance and awareness, so the driver must be physically and mentally capable.
With an increasing number of driving accidents caused by driver negligence and incompetencies, safety experts started the study of self-driving trucks as a means of making roads safer. This initiative would erase most of the common factors in road accidents such as drunk driving, distracted drivers, drowsy drivers, speeding, etc.
These self-driving trucks use LIDRs(laser radar), sophisticated, and highly accurate sensors to be able to drive autonomously. Embark also uses a form of artificial intelligence on their trucks known as deep neural networks or DDNs, allowing their systems to learn from experience.
Self-driving Trucks Can Reduce Traffic Congestion
Self-driving trucks are said to eliminate human incompetencies and delayed human reactions that often cause traffic jams. The technology should be able to calculate and predict traffic light patterns and react accordingly. These self-driving trucks would follow traffic rules to the letter.
These trucks will be programmed to take the most optimal routes. The predictability of behavior and interconnected navigation system of these trucks can lead to a relative reduction of traffic congestion.
Self-Driving Trucks Are Environment-Friendly
Since self-driving trucks can calculate and detect obstacles, they would be able to react accordingly. This feature saves trees and animals from getting hit while the vehicles are en route to their destinations.
Moreover, as autonomous trucks are presumed to have more advanced fuel gauge, fleet management software and location trackers, autonomous trucks can reach their destination with minimum fuel or energy consumption. These advantages help reduce carbon footprint while ultimately keeping the cost low.
Autonomous Trucks Make A More Efficient Logistics System
With all the advantages mentioned above, It's evident that the emergence of self-driving trucks will introduce a more efficient way of transporting goods. There will be less need for highly skilled truck drivers, which means that the recruitment process will be a lot less strict.
Autonomous trucks allow companies to transport more freight with fewer drivers. Moreover, drivers can also take a break, eat, and rest without stopping. This reduces travel time significantly.
Issues That Shouldn't Be Overlooked When Developing Autonomous Vehicles
Although the benefits of these self-driving trucks are undeniably evident, there may also be disadvantages that developers shouldn't undermine. There are a couple of concerns that should be considered when developing the technology.
Self-driving trucks may also be susceptible to hackers and other criminals. Even if a supervisor is inside the vehicle, it may still be possible for hackers to infiltrate the system and override the controls. Security, safety, and privacy must remain a priority when developing this technology.