Autonomous vehicles have been a hot topic in the transportation industry for years. Self-driving technology has the potential to reduce accident rates and make lives easier. Self-driving technology is slowly emerging on the scene of the trucking industry, but some employees and industry experts remain skeptical.
The Rise of Autonomous Tech in the Trucking Industry
Several trucking companies are now entering the race to produce the first widely used fleet of autonomous semi-trucks. Google, Daimler, and Mercedes-Benz are a few companies kicking their plans into high gear. Daimler placed the world’s first licensed self-driving truck on the roads of Nevada in spring 2015. Mercedes-Benz started testing its augmented truck on the German autobahn in 2015.
A Google self-driving car engineer left the company in early 2016 to found Ottomotto LLC. The organization, which is now owned by Uber, is working on retrofit solutions companies can apply to existing 18-wheelers to turn them into self-driving powerhouses. Truck drivers are already testing the technology on the roadways. While the tech powering the autonomous driving movement is still years from a full-fledged transition, truck drivers and companies continue to consider the long-term effects and potential problems of integrating this new concept into the trucking industry.
Exploring the Challenges of Autonomous Semi-Trucks
The idea of self-driving trucks makes sense. Self-driving trucks could be capable of processing thousands of sensory details in a moment, so autonomous 18-wheelers would naturally watch out for the little guys and know when to apply brakes. However, a truck driver’s job involves much more than lane changes, turns, acceleration, and braking.
Truck drivers are concerned about the variables they encounter in daily life, and how self-driving vehicles will address those unpredictable factors. Regulations sometimes change from state to state, making navigation more difficult for a computer program. Highway speeds can change from 60-plus mph to 10 mph quickly during rush hour or when an accident occurs. The type and size of cargo alters the weight and handling of a truck. Many truck drivers use feeling, instinct, and experience to guide their movements on the roadways – something autonomous programs may not successfully mimic.
Human error-related crashes and unsafe driving behaviors will likely change for the better with the advent of these trucks, but new issues will probably arise in their places. Software glitches and hardware malfunctioning could present real concerns on the roadways of the future.
The Risks and Rewards of Self-Driving Trucks
For some, talk of self-driving trucks elicits a visceral reaction. Truck drivers worry about the changing nature of the job and their place in a world with smart trucks. Fortunately, autonomous and augmented trucks will need their drivers for the foreseeable future. Drivers will still need to monitor systems, ensure the safety of their cargo, and make decisions the computer cannot.
One thing is certain – truck manufacturers are working on implementing the technology sooner rather than later. Truck drivers may want to learn about the changing role of drivers onboard an automated truck to remain competitive within the industry. Truckers can use the technology to get ahead in the industry and maintain safe driving records, instead of viewing it as a threat to the trade. Those who can adapt to an augmented or autonomous driving environment will remain competitive in the job market over the next few decades.