As children, we all probably imagined that one day we would finally see a car that drove or flew itself. It's okay, admit it, you had those fanciful daydreams too!
Well, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the logistics industry is on the cutting edge of self-driving technology. The bad news is that we still probably won't be getting flying cars anytime soon. That's a fair tradeoff though, right?
If you were to do a quick Google search right now for self-driving trucks, there are a couple of things you would immediately notice.
First, there is a growing concern amongst shippers as to whether it is truly a practical solution. Secondly, you will find something in contrast to that line of thinking. You will find that the automation industry has been making significant strides and producing promising results since early 2018.
Since rumors and speculation never lead to a productive discussion, we’ve taken time to break down some facts about the current state of self-driving trucks in 2019.
Still, the "no flying trucks" thing has got us all sad now...
A 2019 Update on Self-Driving Technology
In 2018, the debate on self-driving technology hit a significant landmine when a semi-autonomous Uber vehicle struck a bicycle rider crossing a road at night. While this could be contributed to poor lighting conditions, it is nonetheless a significant hit to automation technology. While a human occupant ‘controlled the vehicle’ some of the self-driving safety systems were deactivated, to permit more human control in busy metropolitan areas.
In fact, this incident pushed Uber to abandon its commercial autonomous driving program entirely. Since then, they have focused more on the direct consumer segment.
This tragic accident also caused many of the leading technology firms leading the truck division to fine-tune their strategies for testing autonomous solutions. Here is where many of them stand as of July 2019.
USPS TuSmart Dallas to Phoenix Road Test
The United States Postal Service has partnered with technology company TuSmart to test a semi-autonomous truck, navigating the popular trucking route from Dallas to Phoenix. The test involves a team of two-drivers who let the truck drive itself unless an emergency situation arrives.
The updated technology includes advanced traffic monitoring cameras and sensors to reduce the risk of hitting pedestrians, road hazards, or other items on the roadways.
Another Phoenix-based company Waymo is increasing its truck driving technology by returning to their roots. They have been implementing and testing self-driven vehicles for ride-share customers for the past few years.
In 2017, the company refocused its efforts on ride-share. Shortly thereafter, they made a quick swap back to the trucking industry. They are focusing more efforts on driver-assisted self-driving technology.
Einride Testing Complete Autonomous Truck
Meanwhile, in Sweden, technology start-up Einride is testing a completely electric, self-driving truck. It has no cab for a human occupant and is currently being tested on quiet roads. This company and its innovations show so much promise. So much so that the Michelin Group is currently working with them to implement a more sustainable transport system.
Here are a few Key Takeaways From the Current State of Self-Driving Technology
It’s Keeps Drivers Employed
A self-driving truck that is managed by a human occupant can significantly reduce the potential of on-road incidents.
The technology in these trucks is the result of years upon years of work. While designed to facilitate safer driving habits and last-minute decision-making, they are far from perfect. A major component to the Uber accident in Arizona was the removal of some safety protocols – along with a human occupant that was not fully attentive.
By partnering technology with experienced operators, it keeps them employed, while providing a much-needed human response in certain events. Honestly, this is more than likely going to be a new job position and title.
Another popular concern of self-driving technology is the cost of implementation.
This type of technology isn’t cheap, in fact, many shipping giants such as Fed Ex, DHL, and UPS are slowly integrating some self-driving technology solutions. The combined technology is more affordable and improves efficiency.
However, it is an investment that reaches far beyond the confines of self-driving solutions. As more and more devices become part of the Internet of Things (IoT), it makes sense that self-driving trucks will soon make the roster.
If so, get ready to expand the use of your current TMS, CRM, and other logistics tech platforms!
Opportunity for Education
We touched on this topic on the onset, but it is important to drive the message home. There is a lot of misleading information about what self-driving technology brings and the intent of these solutions. As these systems continue to show safe results, it’s important for manufacturers and key stakeholders to improve their PR efforts. Not in a vain effort to spin the benefits, but to provide facts about the technology.
We are at a rather critical juncture. One at which we have all this new and fresh technology being explored. There is no better time to educate others on the use of a new tool than right from the beginning.
Fully autonomous self-driving trucks are simply not practical in the US anytime soon. There are multiple consumer safety and advocacy groups that strongly advocate for improvements in technology to make these trucks safer. And a completely computer-controlled solution is simply not that solution – yet.
But, the good news is that with each year, we get one step closer.