Self-driving Trucks and the Future of the Trucking Industry

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Is trucking ripe for a technology disruption? Read how self-driving trucks could change the future of the trucking industry.
Blue Semi Truck

Is trucking ripe for a technology disruption? What if self-driving trucks become the norm faster than self-driving cars? Google, Apple, and Tesla all currently have projects in the works for self-driving cars. While some car maneuvers are automated, such as self-parking, self-driving cars have not yet been embraced by the auto industry—or consumers.

What about self-driving trucks? Commercial carriers host the perfect environment for testing new self-driving technology, which means they will be more prevalent on the roads faster than self-driving cars. In October, the first delivery of an 18-wheeler, self-driving truck occurred in Colorado for Anheuser-Busch. This truck, designed with technology by Uber-owned Otto, delivered a shipment of beer along a two-hour predetermined route, with the help of a bevy of radar and sensor attachments.

But the truck wasn’t fully driverless. The self-driving truck had a driver in the sleeping berth monitoring progress—and who took over more complicated turn executions in residential roads. Otto, a San Francisco start-up who was purchased by Uber in August, doesn’t build self-driving trucks. Instead, Otto builds the hardware equipment to attach to existing trucks to make them have the ability to be self-driven.

This foresight means Otto’s idea can become a reality faster than imagined, and the future will likely involve the public passing trucks on the interstate with no one behind the wheel.

What does this mean for the future of the trucking industry?

  • Drivers will need to learn new technology.

As with all innovations, humans need to learn how to adapt to new tools to improve the trucking experience. Drivers will need to learn hardware and software functions, how to test, replace, and drive using driver-less equipment. Fleets could entice more drivers to the profession, however, with the promise of safer, more advanced driving possibilities.

The entire automotive industry will need to learn how to manage and interact with self-driving trucks. From drivers to fleet carrier companies, to the general public driving alongside trucks, all drivers will be affected. Similar to new computer technology, humans will still need to manage self-driving vehicles, no matter if inside them or via technology.

  • Trucks will need to use new technology.

Trucks will need to be ready for the equipment required for self-driving. New constraints or driving processes could mean altering how trucks are built in the future—from brakes and steering wheels to cab redesign. However, self-driving technology could make existing fleets last longer with less damaging driving wear by humans. New truck parts and new processes for coordinating repairs is likely, along with new ways to monitor truck wear.

  • New driving regulations and laws will be needed.

With new ideas comes new ways to govern them. Self-driving trucks will fall into this less regulated area quickly. Without a driver behind the wheel, is a virtual or in-the-cab driver still responsible for traffic violations? Liability across state and federal laws will need to be more thoroughly defined, and soon. Also, the potential to lessen fatigue-related deaths is helping spur new thoughts on driver hours-of-service regulations.  

  • Infrastructures will be built and routes will be mapped based on technology.

Are the roads ready for self-driving trucks? It depends on the roads, and how quickly self-driving technology advances. Road conditions and infrastructure designs will play a key role in the adaption of self-driving trucks. Carriers will likely map routes based on best fits for self-driving–with safe, predictable roads and terrains. This thinking could alter traditional commerce shipping routes and shape new travel patterns.

  • Cyber security of self-driving trucks will need to be monitored.

Could someone hack a self-driving truck and change the route? These scenarios will raise questions that are not far off. Security of hardware and software guiding self-driven trucks is a serious question for the industry. Not only could trucks be stolen, but they also could be used to deliberately cause crashes. Shipping contents of self-driving trucks could also be restricted in the future for safety reasons.

What do you think about the new technology of self-driving trucks? Open the discussion with us the next time you’re at your local Wheelco! Also, check out truck part specials on all the items you need for the winter months.

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