Last week Mark Willis asked my fellow Team Run Smart Pro and I to be on The Road Dog Trucking News channel on Sirius Satellite Radio to discuss the lightning rod subject of autonomous trucks.

This was a challenging subject to discuss as there are still many unknown factors to be fair in the judgment of this emerging technology.  As drivers, our first knee jerk reaction to the words “autonomous truck” is the fear of our job being taken over by a computer.  In our minds, we make up a scenario that it will not be able to operate properly. After being asked to be a guest on his show, we decided to have a pre-show conversation to tackle the autonomous truck conversation.  What we found was the realities are much different than the fears.  To start with, airplanes have had autopilot for many decades. And they not only have a pilot and a co-pilot but a navigator as well.  Railroad locomotives seem like an easy machine to automate as they are steered by the rails, not a steering wheel. And ships which also have their own form of auto-pilot still have a sizable crew in the bridge to oversee the navigation of the vessel.

Because of Mark inviting us to the show it caused us to search deep and go beyond our fears to where we could find the positive attributes of autonomous technology.  The show started out with the discussion of two trucks that had made a 400+ mile plus trip using the autonomous technology along with a driver monitoring the system.  The interesting takeaway from the first ten minutes of the show, where the carrier and inventor discussed their findings, proved to be very interesting in regards to the direction they were taking the technology.  It seems as though one of the benefits they discussed was to be able to get their drivers home more often along with productivity and efficiency gains.  

There is a video from 1956 showing how this technology was envisioned to be employed in passenger cars to enhance a driver's safety along with relief from the mundane duties associated with driving on the open interstate.  At this point, we were probably a long ways from the technology of driving in urban areas as there are too many illogical situations unfolding at any given moment and autonomous technology works on logic.  

Stop the Presses! Hold on a second!  Maybe autonomous technology wouldn't be so bad in an urban area. As truck drivers sitting high above the road we see all the illogical decisions being made on the highway.   They are jockeying for positions on the road trying to get ahead from one another. As you look down, there is no logic to their decisions.  And not only do they typically not advance their position, but these illogical actions also delay everyone.  Imagine this, autonomous vehicles most likely would not cut each other off and could quite possibly make everyone's trip smoother and less stressful in congested traffic situations.   

Let's step back again and take a look at the simple earliest cars where you would have only 20 horsepower.  Think about that, one person in complete control of over 20 horses!  The question becomes,  would you stay with the horse and buggy crowd or embrace the new technology of the new automobile or later on the semi-truck?   The reality is we have had the autonomous technology in our vehicles for a while now.  Let's take the simple radio in our dash, already today there are autonomous technologies within this simple device.  For example, the channel scan button will look for another channel in an autonomous fashion, tire monitors keep a vigilant watch on the tire pressures and temperatures,  automatic headlight dimmers, self-canceling turn signals, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, automatic transmissions along with automated manual transmissions, power windows, thermostatic temperature control, stability control, and rain-sensing windshield wipers are all forms of autonomous technology.

It's easy to sit around and look for reasons why any given technology won't work.  My challenge to you today is to spend an equal or greater amount of time trying to find ways to use new technologies to enhance your career while making yourself more productive, safe, and relaxed.

Thanks Mark Willis for having us on the show and causing me to have a fresh look at this emerging technology.

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Henry Albert

Henry Albert is the owner of Albert Transport, Inc., based in Statesville, NC. Before participating in the "Slice of Life" program, Albert drove a 2001 Freightliner Century Class S/Tâ„¢, and will use his Cascadia for general freight and a dry van trailer. Albert, who has been a trucker since 1983, was recognized by Overdrive as its 2007 Trucker of the Year.

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