No, self-driving trucks will not replace truck drivers. At least, not any time soon. While a lot has been happening in the world of automated vehicles, it is unlikely that truckers will be out of a job any time soon. Despite Uber’s historic automated truck delivery in 2016, much of the automated driving technology currently being developed is for passenger vehicles rather than trucks.
While specific industries, such as mining, use self-driving trucks regularly now, most reports indicate that automated trucks won’t be on the road until the latter half of this decade. And even then, truckers will still need to be in the vehicle. Here’s a look at why:
Trucks are much larger than cars, and automated systems such as collision avoidance don’t work as well in trucks because of their lack of maneuverability. Trucks can’t turn quickly or brake as fast as the typical four-door sedan. Additionally, while a passenger vehicle may be able to avoid cars, people, and objects on the side of the road, it’s much more difficult for a truck to do so. The technology doesn’t exist for trucks to safely operate on current American highways.
Considering the potential for disaster with a self-driving truck, much more work needs to be done regarding the sensors that self-driving trucks need to use to maneuver the road. Sensors consist of both radar and camera technology, and they are typically found on the top of the cab of the truck. However, depending on the weather, multiple things can go wrong, including the sensor being blinded by the sun or other inclement weather.
It wouldn’t surprise many people to learn that nearly 1 in 7 fatal accidents involving trucks were due to driver fatigue. Automated truck deliveries could alleviate the rate of traffic deaths involving large trucks.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, crashes involving large trucks killed 4,761 people in 2017. Over 70% of those fatalities were occupants of other vehicles. Automated trucks may help reduce the number of fatal accidents on America’s roadways each year.
Automated trucks, despite the need for drivers in the cab, can save companies millions. Morgan Stanley estimated that automated freight deliveries could save over $160 billion a year. These savings come from reduced fuel costs, reduced labor costs, fewer accidents, and increased productivity.
Most likely, when companies start rolling out automated trucks, drivers will still be required to supervise the truck’s operation on the road, stepping in as needed for particular maneuvers and deliveries. The self-driving technology may allow truck drivers to work longer days as they will be able to rest and do other things, such as fill out paperwork, on the road.
There are a variety of companies with a vested interest in the self-driving truck industry. Watching these companies and what they do with their technology is the best way to predict what might happen in the future, especially when it comes to jobs for truck drivers.
Daimler is the parent company of Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner Trucks. They’ve been testing their automated truck since 2014, and they announced last year that they would manufacture electric trucks nearby in Portland, Oregon, starting in 2021. In January 2019, Daimler announced that it would hire 200 people (also in Portland) to help develop self-driving trucks that they aim to have on the road by 2030.
TuSimple is a company with bases in both Beijing, China, and San Diego, California. Their testing facility in Arizona has seen over 15,000 miles driven by automated trucks. TuSimple uses camera technology rather than radar technology, and the company requires that a Class A licensed driver is in the vehicle at all times. These drivers are known as “driver supervisors,” and TuSimple wants to get their trucks on the road in both the United States and China in the next couple of years.
Embark is a company based in San Francisco, and it was founded in 2016. The company aims to let truck drivers spend less time driving, and more time doing other aspects of the job, increasing their productivity. Ultimately, their tactic is to automate the driving process on the highway while letting a truck driver take over once it reaches an exit.
Waymo, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, tests self-driving trucks in both California and Arizona. Each of their trucks requires a human driver in case of an emergency, but they use radar technology to navigate traffic.
Tesla is one of the most famous players in the self-driving industry. Tesla aims to incorporate its autopilot system, currently in place in their cars, into trucks. In this system, a human needs to be behind the wheel, but the vehicle’s computer controls other processes such as acceleration, braking, and steering.
Now, more than ever, our nation’s truck drivers are needed to make critical deliveries during the coronavirus pandemic. With millions of Americans out of work, CDL training is an excellent option for many people looking to get back to work as soon as possible. Truck drivers are considered essential workers during the stay-at-home order issued by Oregon Governor Kate Brown. Call us today to get one step closer to your future as a truck driver!