Self-driving vehicles (driverless vehicles) are being tested throughout the world, with technology companies focused on bringing greater efficiency and profitability to the freight business.
Heavy hitters, including Uber with its recent purchase of Otto, and Tesla with its initiatives for autonomous driving platforms, have made waves throughout media outlets and investor groups alike.
However, driverless trucks have yet to gain full traction in the broad market for a variety of reasons.
Most pressing is the reality that everyday road users aren’t keen on sharing the highway with technology-driven vehicles. There is a widespread concern that eliminating the human element of driving means an increased potential for accidents, given there is no instinct as part of the mix.
Additionally,government regulators tasked with setting guidelines for the trucking industry at large have yet to come to terms with what driverless fleets mean for current and future laws. The combination of these relevant issues means driverless trucks are still in the development phase for many companies.
Autonomous Vehicles and the Freight Business
The introduction of self-driving trucks has rattled the freight business, as digital transformation has quickly done in other industries.
The potential for removing a vast number of drivers – one of America’s largest sectors of blue-collar jobs – has many concerned about the economic ramifications for hundreds of thousands of workers.
Without the need for drivers, many truckers may find themselves without employment alternatives, due in part to the vast reduction in other available job positions for the same set of skills. Taking away the income potential for truckers and the reduction in spending that comes with high unemployment is poised to drastically impact economies large and small.
In addition, licensed freight brokers share similar anxiety surrounding the future of the business, as autonomous vehicles have the ability to eliminate the need for what is now a crucial component of shipping and freight overall.
Freight brokers work to connect shippers and suppliers, manage the pick-up 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 from the mix, like Uber Freight which digitally connects parties involved in standard shipping transactions.
The more than 13,000 licensed freight brokers already vying for market share could see a decrease in available business should self-driving trucks become more mainstream.
A Foggy Future
While there are some glaring obstacles facing the freight business with the introduction of driverless trucks, many experts argue that the future of the industry will be less dramatic than most purport. Humans are still needed in many facets of freight, not the least of which is pick-up, delivery, and last-mile operations.
Driverless trucks are currently being tested in long-haul operations only, and most have a human pilot or operator on standby throughout the journey. This ensures an increased level of safety for the truck itself as well as the other road users along the way. Also, recent news of Uber’s self-driving fatality has put testing on hold for many technology firms, leading some to believe that driverless trucks do not have full traction in the market just yet.
Experts suggest that driverless trucks will see a grander debut in a decade’s time, but likely not earlier 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 manage the changes that are inevitable.