A lot has been happening in the world of self-driving trucks. More companies have emerged, technologies are being tested, laws are being considered, and the date for when it will be normal to see automated trucks on the road is getting closer and closer. Many in the industry are excited about this technology because it will help improve productivity, fuel efficiency, costs, and traffic on the highways. With the trucking industry continuing to move forward, the main thing on truck drivers’ minds is the security of their jobs. Let’s take a closer look at self-driving trucks quickly becoming a reality.
Who are the Major Players?
Just recently, Uber announced the discontinuation of their automated truck program. This was brought on despite Uber making history in 2016 with the first automated truck delivery. Uber decided to stop their self-driving truck program to focus more on self-driving cars. However, many companies are continuing to invest a lot of time and money in this field. Here are a few of the most notable companies making the biggest strides towards perfecting this technology.
Daimler is one of the first companies to enter the field. Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner Trucks, has been testing their automated truck since 2014. Daimler is focusing on a combination of things including truck platooning and having a driver for safety while exiting the highway. Daimler plans to launch a full automated truck research center in Portland, Oregon.
Waymo is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. Waymo has been testing their trucks for more than a year in California and Arizona. In March, they launched trucks in Atlanta to deliver freight to different Google data centers. Each truck is equipped with a radar system to navigate the roads and a human driver in case of an emergency.
Tesla first released its truck in November of 2017. Their plan is to have trucks begin to deliver in 2019. Tesla’s trucks will focus on an autopilot self-driving software similar to their cars. Tesla’s autopilot is a semi-autonomous system where the acceleration, braking, and steering is controlled by a computer, with a human still at the wheel at all times. Tesla’s goal is to launch a platooning feature where automated trucks follow a single lead truck that is controlled by a driver.
Embark was founded in 2016 in San Francisco. Their approach is to allow truck drivers to spend less time actually driving, which will allow them to deliver more day by day. They are working on achieving this by automating the driving process on the highway, where most of the time is spent, and letting a driver take over when they get off an exit. Embark is testing their trucks between El Paso, Texas and Palm Springs, California.
TuSimple is a company based in Beijing, China and San Diego, California. They also have a testing facility in Tucson, Arizona, where their trucks have driven over 15,000 miles. The trucks are actually based on camera technology rather than laser-based radar, which is what most automated trucks and cars use. The company claims that this is more efficient in detecting things on the freeway, and it is cheaper than radar technology. Along with this, TuSimple requires there to be a Class A licensed driver in the vehicle at all times known as a “driver supervisor”. TuSimple plans to have a few of their trucks out on the road by the end of this year, in the U.S. and in China.
What are the Problems with Self-Driving Trucks?
Despite all of the money and research going into this technology, there are still questions and concerns that need to be answered regarding the safety of this technology. Google has been testing their self-driving cars since 2011 and has racked up millions of miles. During this time, there have been only 20 crashes involving a self-driving car, with only one of the crashes being at the fault of the car.
This news is encouraging, but a self-driving truck is not the exact same as a self-driving car. Trucks are obviously much larger and lack the ability to maneuver around a potential accident like a car can. It takes a truck a lot longer to come to a complete stop when braking, and there isn’t a lot of room to avoid cars or people on the side of the road.
There are also potential problems with the sensor being on top of a truck’s cab. The sensors will consist of a combination of both radars and cameras that will be used to help navigate and control the truck. If the sensor is on top of the cab of the truck, it has the potential to be blinded by the sun, have problems distinguishing between cars and large signs, and become impaired by inclement weather. Ultimately all of this could lead to problems for trucks in city settings where there are constant stops, turns and tight spaces.
How Close is This to Happening?
Despite the concerns that loom over the automated vehicle industry, according to Business Insider, “Tech leaders and financiers alike are confident that self-driving trucks will become the norm as early as the next decade.” In fact, many people believe we will see self-driving trucks before we see self-driving cars. This has to do with relative simplicity of programming a self-driving vehicle to drive on a highway, where trucks spend most of their time, compared to driving on a city street.
With all of the successful tests being completed by multiple companies, the world appears to be more confident about driving on roads where vehicles are being driven by technology. There are still kinks in the technology that need to be worked out and laws put in place, but with the way things are trending, it is likely we will see self-driving trucks fully functioning by the next decade.
Are Truck Drivers out of a Job?
No, not all truck drivers are going to lose their jobs. In fact, many people believe that the introduction of self-driving trucks could lead to the opposite. As automated trucks are utilized more often, more people will be needed in those trucks. All of the companies mentioned above are testing their trucks with the full intention of having a driver in the cab at all times. There are too many things that can potentially go wrong for there to not be a human in the truck when it’s operating on the road.
However, this doesn’t mean that trucking jobs aren’t going to change. The major change is that drivers will not be expected to do as much manual driving, which could actually be seen as a benefit. Think of the job of a truck driver slowly looking more and more similar to the job of an airplane pilot. The truck will be able to drive on its own, but the population will feel a lot safer knowing somebody is behind the wheel just in case.
If you are a truck driver worried about your job being lost to an autonomous truck, we hope this update puts your mind at ease and makes you at least a little bit excited about the future of the trucking industry. Truck drivers will continue to be extremely important in the industry, even if there are self-driving trucks on the freeways.
This article was originally featured on ATBS.com.