Each day we hear more and more about the driver shortage, the high turnover rate in the business, and companies saying they have too much freight and not enough drivers. Driver turnover and the driver shortage is a problem that has come about because of the governments’ intervention in our business, by way of too much regulation and the ELD. When I was driving, I always said that if everyone started driving legal the pay and freight rates would go up. Now, because of the ELD, we all are supposed to run legal, and freight rates are going up.
The trucking industry of the future will consist of self-driving trucks with a “truck driver’ in the cab to keep an eye on everything and take control of the tractor in case of emergency. More truck manufacturers are jumping on the self-driving truck technology and the way things are going they will probably have this accomplished in another fifteen to twenty years. It will be fun watching all these experiments, mishaps, and the chaos that is created while they get this all worked out.
What is the Ultimate Goal
The goal in all this is to have as many self-driving trucks on the road as possible, as soon as possible. A lot of those forward-looking inventors have a vision of self-driving trucks following each other down the interstate. Already I have read that Atlanta is thinking about building a truck only highway around the city for all these self-driving trucks. A lot of states are looking into this because they say it will dramatically improve safety and the environment.
It would seem to me that the trucking manufactures will run into the same problems as trains. The railroads have been looking into self-driving train technology since the early 1990s. They have not been able to get it perfected, yet, and trains run on a track. Their biggest problem is the lack of available track, and our wireless technology has not sufficiently improved to cover all the areas where trains run.
The ultimate goal is to have a group of self-driving trucks following each other down the interstate controlled by one driver or truck traffic controller. I imagine we would have a group of city drivers to go pick up their trucks outside the city limits, unload and load within the cities and take the tractors back to the gathering place outside the city. At which point they would be put together for their trips down the freeways to their destinations. A person could say that local truck driving careers will be the future of trucking.
Future Truck Drivers
A truck driver would then become a traffic controller watching these trucks on their computers to see to it they stayed on track. My big question is, what are they going to do when they run into a big blizzard or ice storm? What’s going to happen when one blows a tire or has a computer malfunction? You know what happens when you go downhill and lose your cell phone connection, it will be the same if one of these trucks lose their WiFi while going down the road.
I am sure our government and all the environmentalist have good intentions, but I fail to see how we can safely accomplish this. Is a jumbo jet on autopilot during a blizzard? Jets can do a lot of things on autopilot, but when the going gets tough, a pilot has to take over, and most of the time, that can not be performed remotely!
What companies are involved in this now and what all are they doing? Waymo is an autonomous car company and subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. We all know who Elon Musk is and the taxi company Uber. Elon Musk, with his company Tesla, has been a pioneer in the autonomous vehicle development for a long time. Uber has been a taxi company since about 2008. Otto, a San Francisco company outfits trucks with the equipment needed to navigate these vehicles. Peterbilt is the primary supplier of the tractors in these experiments. Another startup, Embark is partnering with Ryder in the development of these self-driving trucks.
All of these companies have been testing self-driving trucks and the technology involved for some time, and I am sure there are other companies involved and getting on the bandwagon. Uber’s autonomous truck has hauled beer across Colorado and Embark has been hauling refrigerators 650 miles from El Paso to Palm Springs, CA. Uber is hauling commercial cargo in Arizona and Waymo is testing autonomous trucks on five-day trips from southern California to Jacksonville. Fl.
The Waymo trips do not carry any cargo, and a driver is present at all times, as were all the other experiments, to watch over things. What it all gets down to, is these companies are hot and heavy to get this technology developed. You add this to what Amazon is trying to do with their drones, and we have some exciting and very interesting times ahead.
All That Has to be Changed
The number one question on everyone’s mind is how are they going to navigate these trucks down the road. There has been the talk of electronic sensors embedded in the highways, but most of them are relying on software that relies on a WiFi connection similar to your cell phone. A driver would then be able to sit at home and navigate their truck, the same as you would the remote cars we used to play with.
Other companies are experimenting with having trucks that run with electric wires, much the same as a streetcar. No matter which way this all turns out, it is going to require some significant changes to our infrastructure. All of you know from traveling all around our Nation that cell phone reception can get real spotty in some parts and it sometimes goes on and off, without warning.
They probably will have a combination of things to keep these trucks going and either way it will require some significant changes to the way things are done now.
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The other question that is out there is the use of electricity? It’s only common sense that the more electric cars and trucks that are on the road, the more voltage we are going to need. Already there are many blackouts across the Nation during a year, costing businesses $150 Billion annually. I recently wrote a blog about this, and you can read it HERE if you care to, it is about all the extra electricity that is going to be demanded in the future.
I am sure the four wheelers will love us then, cause all the trucks will have to stay in line, go the speed limit, in the right lane and follow each other down the road. It will be quite a sight, and as I have said before, you will have stories to tell your grandkids about what a truck driver used to do.
Future Truck Drivers
After all, this gets into place; it will be the end of the over the road truck driver. The good ole days of Burt Reynolds and West Bound and Down will be gone forever. The only truck driving career will be those in the cities delivering to the warehouses and taking their loads to the drop yards outside the city, and I’m sure all the tractors will have automatic transmissions.
It will probably be quite some time before a driverless truck will be able to navigate the interstates. Just as I mentioned above, what happens in the case of an emergency or bad weather? Until then, a truck driver job may consist of sitting in the truck and monitoring everything, which depending on the pay, may turn out to be a pretty good job! The truck driver of the future will have to be knowledgeable in computer technology, know what to do in case of a computer crash on an autonomous truck.
In the long run, a truck driving job may be one in which a driver sits at home in front of their computers guiding their trucks down the road. I don’t see how it is going to solve the driver shortage we have now. If, anything it will require more drivers to keep an eye on all this and keep all the trucks in line. With all the big money and bright minds, that are experimenting with this it will happen in a few years.
New technology puts a lot of older drivers and drivers who don’t know a lot about computers out in the cold, which is what happens when any new technology comes along.
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