TECHNOLOGY ADVANCEMENTS IN TRUCK AUTOMATION
Technology is a constant ever spinning wheel that typically drives humans forward. However, there have been some innovations that have briefly steered our species backwards; machines that have caused more damage and chaos than good. The unfortunate thing is that we never know which direction any given technological advance will take us until we are able to enjoy the pinnacle of certainty, hindsight. Hindsight is the only concept in existence that gives us true certainty, true piece of mind that the decisions we made were for the betterment or the detriment of society.
No industry is free from technological advance. The trucking industry has experienced some of the greatest technological advances in safety and efficiency over the last 100 years. At the start of the 20th century, goods were hauled on horse drawn carriage. Transcontinental travel was measured in intervals of months. In 2016, we are able to make the same trip in a matter of days in trucks that are twice as fuel efficient as they were merely two years ago. Even with all the technological advances, trucking remains the deadliest occupation. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 trucking related fatalities made up nearly 28% of all workplace fatalities. This begs the question, in an industry that thrives on advanced technologies, what will be done to alleviate this problem?
Many within the industry believe that the answer lies in automation. Automation has been the driving force behind the American economy for decades. All aspects of the logistics industry have experienced increased reliance on automation, sans transportation. We have machines that are programmed to pick orders, machines that automatically load truck and machines that are able to scan pallets to identify over dimension/overweight orders. Although, when it comes to arguably the most important aspect of logistics, transportation, we are still relying on human decision making and raw manpower to move the goods that fuel the world’s economy.
It seems that major steps are being taken to ensure that the hand of automation touches the trucking industry as well. On September 20, 2016, the Obama administration gave their stamp of approval on automated trucking. The federal guidelines for the systems behind automation were released. Like the standards for human guided trucking, the standard for automation will be governed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. With government approval, this industry is set to flourish.
The transportation company Uber is currently on the cutting edge of this new technological frontier. In a partnership with San Francisco based tech company Otto, the first fully automated truck delivery was completed. The truck was tasked with delivering 50,000 beers from a brewery in Fort Collins Colorado to its destination in Colorado springs, a 120 miles journey. The trip was a major success.
It appears that it is only a matter of time until this technology becomes refined and reliable to the point where it becomes the standard. For its maiden voyage, Otto was manned with a driver in case any issues would arise that would require human interference. According to Uber, they do not have plans to send fully automated trucks unmanned at this time. The technology is not at the point where anyone would feel comfortable not having a human in the cab to make those crucial judgement calls that only a human can make.
This does beg the question, what will happen to the nearly 3.5 million truckers currently operating in the United States? Much like the car industry, will this lead to a lack of available positions that will put these drivers out of work? Only time will tell, however, automated vehicles seem to be a promising technology that could one day lead to a world where driving is no longer one of the most dangerous activities we do in a day. Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015, there were 35,092 fatalities that resulted from motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. alone.
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