#AutonomousTrucks: What Does The Future Hold?- A Joey Slaughter Blog @BlueRidgeTran

Contributing author Joey Slaughter is the owner of Blue Ridge Transport, LLC. A Ringgold, VA based carrier. Joey started his company in 2010 after serving time as an unhappy employee with a local trucking company. The time spent there was not fun but, in hindsight, was a turning point that propelled Joey into the wonderful world of being an entrepreneur. Please visit JoeySlaughter.net for more insightful blogging. 

There’s a lot of talk about the Freightliner Inspiration that has been turning heads across the southwest desert.  You may have even seen it traveling down I-15 near the Las Vegas strip.  Yes, there is a driver in that truck as well as engineers, press and other people related to the project.

I’ve read comments from drivers on various websites, putting their “two cents worth” in, criticizing the project and remarking how the truck will never work in the “real world.”  Let me address that:  Yes, the technology experts and engineers can make this work!  Remember this truck is not for sale, but it has been built to demonstrate the technology and to test and develop it further.

The construction and agriculture machinery industries are ahead of the trucking industry and they should be.  Their equipment is operated off the highways and away from the general public.  Sure, there are many things to consider with autonomous agriculture and construction machinery, but the complexity of sharing the public roads with humans isn’t one of them.

There are examples of the general public not being ready for the advanced technologies.  The Concorde jet comes to mind.  It could get you from New York to London in 3.5 hours; basically half the time of a regular subsonic jet.  But, if you haven’t noticed, there are no more Concordes flying.  The technology was very expensive along with the fuel costs.  In the end, people didn’t want to pay the large sums of money to get across the Atlantic in half the time.

Autonomous trucks have a market unlike the Concorde.  With the constant cries of driver shortage, hours of service problems, ELDs, etc… Autonomous trucks can solve those probems.  But which ones will they create?

Here are some of the benefits of fully autonomous trucks:  Remember this is LONG RANGE!

  • Trucks can run 24 hours a day; no hours of service.
  • This will remove nearly half of the trucks off the roads since they can run 24/7.
  • Maximum fuel economy; no stopping for sleep or food.
  • No labor costs for driving the truck; this will offset the higher prices of the vehicles.
  • Once all the technology is implemented, these trucks will be much safer as human error is removed.

My predictions:

  • Fully autonomous trucks will most likely operate on “smart highways”.
  • These will probably be upgraded interstates that will incorporate various sensors that communicate with the trucks.
  • The U.S. government will have to invest heavily into our infrastructure to make this work and it’s very questionable if they can do this.  This is what will slow the implementation.
  • Line-haul makes up the majority of mileage in the trucking industry and it will be the easiest to replace with autonomous trucks
  • Operations will be similar to how triples and double 48′ and 53’s are broken down in areas just off the turnpike or interstate.  The autonomous line haul will end at a place like that.  From there, local drivers will deliver the freight.

Conclusion: You don’t need to worry about finding a new career. If you’re just entering the industry as a 20 something, you will be able to retire as a truck driver if you so wish.  However, don’t roll your eyes and think fully autonomous trucks aren’t coming!  There’s a heavy demand for the increased efficiency and decreased energy consumption.  Those are code words for more profitability!