If you haven’t heard yet, multiple convoys of autonomously driven trucks made a trip from various locations in Europe and met in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The event was part of the European Truck Platooning Challenge, and it was intended to demonstrate the practicality of driverless trucks. Companies that participated include DAF Trucks, Daimler Trucks, Iveco, MAN Truck & Bus, Scania and Volvo Group.
According to TechCrunch, the program showed us that a convoy of trucks being driven autonomously can work in sync; the lead truck communicates with the following trucks, giving the speed and course to travel, and they can all brake and accelerate simultaneously to act as one mobile unit. The whole system has a faster reaction time than the average human, so the self-driving trucks can travel in a tighter line allowing them to draft behind one another to increase fuel efficiency. It also helps to reduce the amount of road space taken up by the convoy overall.
The safety implications of autonomous technology are debatable, but the economic effects of adopting self-driving technology in truck-based shipping are striking. It costs about $4,500 to ship a full truckload from L.A. to New York today. More than half of that cost goes to labor. Switching from paying a truck driver to drive 11 hours at a time before taking an 8-hour break to not having to pay a driver will obviously reduce the cost of labor. Driverless-trucks can drive much longer at a time, potentially 24 hours each day. It sounds like a perfect scenario; companies benefit by cutting costs of moving goods across the country and consumers could benefit from lower costs on products.
Of course, when you automate a job, a lot of people will be out of work. Truck driving is the most common job in 29 states; more than 1.6 million Americans are truck drivers. This amount of job loss won’t happen overnight (it took 14 years to lose 2.2 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S.), but it will affect many people in the middle and lower classes over time and have a greater impact on the economy. Fewer truck drivers also means less business for truck stops, motels, gas stations, diners, and any other business that relies on a steady stream of travelers.
Check out our video about when Daimler AMG showed off their first autonomous Freightliner
Automation has been a growing issue for labor over the past century. It seems like only a matter of time before most of our jobs are performed by robots. We’re interested in hearing your opinions on what full automation (or nearly-complete-automation) of the trucking industry means for our country, and even the world. What other jobs do you see becoming automated in the near future?