There has been a lot of discussion about the ways in which the evolution of self-driving vehicle technology will change the economy, but it's possible many are not fully prepared for this new reality. The reason why? A huge percentage of all U.S. freight is shipped overland via truck, and it's likely that the freight industry is about to almost completely transform its business model over the next few decades.
Dating as far back as large trucks have existed, truckers have ruled the road in terms of their number and how much they hauled. The question is, when will that change, and how?
While a number of developers having pushed the boundaries of what had previously been more of a long-term goal, the point at which long-haul truckers will be replaced with automated vehicles isn't exactly near at hand. However, according to the BBC, those that can get to market first will likely be able to seismically disrupt a global industry valued at some $700 billion annually. This is true not only because truckers will quickly find their jobs changing in ways that are difficult to foresee today, but also because shipping will become a truly 24/7 proposition.
"It's a huge opportunity. The biggest impact ATs (autonomous trucks) will have is cost savings and efficiency," Patrick Penfield, a professor of supply chain practice at Syracuse University, told the BBC. "The nice thing about ATs is that they'll be able to operate 24 hours a day and drive a consistent mileage rate, making trucks safer and more fuel efficient. Freight will arrive at a destination faster. A human truck driver usually takes five days to go from New York to Los Angeles. It'll take an AT 48 hours."
Job losses aren't guaranteed right away
One of the most obvious concerns around the widespread adoption of ATs is that it will put millions of Americans out of work, including both drivers themselves and those who work more "behind the scenes" in trucking, the BBC added. However, it's worth noting that the trucking industry currently has a severe shortage of drivers who can get goods from Point A to Point B, to the point that it creates a major drag on the freight industry. Moreover, that shortage is getting worse over time, not better. So even if ATs started rolling off assembly lines en masse tomorrow, it would likely take years just to make up the ground lost due to said shortage.
How big is that shortage? Some industry estimates show the sector lacking roughly 60,000 pro haulers who could be transporting freight; by the end of the decade, the number could be closer to 160,000, according to the Tech Times. Moreover, even if there are job losses for the roughly 3.5 million truckers in the U.S., it's likely that new roles would emerge for many of them to fill, meaning that the impact on overall employment that arises from widespread AT use might be more muted than many realize.
Meeting the need
It's worth understanding why the trucker shortage has become so severe, and simply put, it's because people have been conditioned to expect deliveries to arrive quickly after orders are placed, according to CNBC. With that in mind, experts believe ATs will mostly be used to handle "middle-mile" shipping meaning the middle between shipper and last-mile deliveries that will likely need to be completed by human drivers in specific locales. That is, days- or weeks-long driving trips forced upon truckers will likely become a thing of the past, as ATs do the heavy lifting on that front.
A ways to go
As with most other automated driving technology, ATs have been in development for several years and still haven't gotten to the point where they're even close to viable, according to Bloomberg. That doesn't mean they won't be within the next few years or so, but any fears about an immediate impact on workers or the industry at large can be put off for some time to come. Right now, these vehicles only appear to be reliable in highly structured environments, and real-world use could take decades without a major breakthrough.
No matter what the future holds, trucks will always require good brakes. Greening Testing Laboratories is a fully certified brake testing lab that provides a variety of brake testing services worldwide. Contact Greening for a complimentary consultation.