Will driverless trucks ever gain momentum?

Self-driving vehicles (driverless vehicles) are being tested around the world, with tech companies focusing on making the freight business more efficient and profitable.

Heavyweights including Uber with its last purchase from Ottoand Tesla, with its autonomous driving platform initiatives, have garnered attention from media and investor groups alike.

However, driverless trucks have yet to establish themselves in the broader market for a variety of reasons.

Most pressing is the reality that everyday road users are not interested in sharing the freeway with technology-driven vehicles. There is a widespread fear that the elimination of the human component of driving means an increased risk of accidents, since instinct is missing as part of the mix.

Additionally,government regulators tasked with setting guidelines for the entire trucking industry have yet to come to terms with what driverless fleets mean for current and future legislation. The combination of these relevant topics means that driverless trucks are still in the development phase for many companies.

Autonomous Vehicles and the Cargo Business

The introduction of self-driving trucks has shaken up the freight business, as digital transformation has quickly done in other industries.

The potential to remove large numbers of drivers — one of the largest sectors of blue-collar jobs in America — has many concerned about the economic impact on hundreds of thousands of workers.

Without the need for drivers, many truckers may find themselves without alternative employment, due in part to the huge reduction in other available jobs for the same skills. Taking away the income potential for truckers and reducing spending that comes with high unemployment will hit economies large and small drastically.

Additionally, licensed freight brokers share similar concerns about the future of the business as autonomous vehicles have the ability to eliminate the need for what is now a critical component of shipping and freight altogether.

Freight brokers work to connect carriers and suppliers, manage the collection and delivery of goods, and ensure a smooth transition from point A to point B. However, applications are already being used to remove freight brokers like Uber Freight from the mix, digitally connecting the parties involved in standard shipping transactions.

The more than 13,000 licensed freight brokers already vying for market share could see a drop in available business should self-driving trucks catch on.

A foggy future

While the freight business faces some glaring stumbling blocks with the introduction of driverless trucks, many experts argue the industry’s future will be less dramatic than most claim. Humans are still needed in many aspects of freight, not the least of which are collection, delivery and last-mile operations.

Driverless trucks are currently only being tested in long-distance operations, and most have a human pilot or operator on standby throughout the journey. This ensures increased safety for the truck itself and other road users on the road. Also the latest news from Uber’s self-driving fatality has put testing on hold for many tech companies, leading some to believe driverless trucks don’t have full traction in the market just yet.

Experts predict driverless trucks will see a major debut in a decade, but likely not sooner given the challenges ahead. Both truckers and freight brokers should keep up with the trends in automation and technology platforms impacting the industry to ensure they are well-equipped to navigate the inevitable changes.

Article on driverless vehicles and permission for publication here provided by Eric Weisbrot of JW Surety Bonds. Originally written for Supply Chain Game Changer and published on October 4th, 2018.

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