Will We Ever Get Driverless Trucking?

Posted: May 7 2019, 9:22am CDT | by , in Cars & Vehicles


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Will We Ever Get Driverless Trucking?
Image: Verge

There's been a lot in the news recently about driverless trucking... but will it ever happen? We check it out.

Watching unmanned Audis and Teslas circle European roads with ease is enough to make any trucker cringe. That's because, while self-driving cars present themselves as a luxury to most of the population, for commercial long-haul truckers, they could represent the end of a way of life.

An army of engineers and computer scientists has been launched at the problem of unmanned driving. The superpowers in this war aren't countries. Instead, they are Alphabet, Uber and mainstream automakers like Freightliner, Mercedes and commercial trucking groups like Scania. But we still don't have self-driving cars. So do our friends the Knights of the Highway have a real reason to be worried?

The Case for Driverless Trucking

What is it that makes truckers feel so targeted, anyway? After all, there are other niche groups that stand to lose when self-driving cars become a reality. Cab drivers, for one. Car enthusiasts, who take pleasure in going out for a Sunday drive, could lose that ability once the full vision of driverless cars is realized and "manual" automobiles are forced from motorways, replaced by safer, more calculating AI.

Money lies at the core of this question. There is more money to be saved in replacing big-rig drivers than in any other industry that's immediately vulnerable to the rise of self-driving cars. Don't be mistaken — there are other jobs and job sectors that will be affected, but replacing humans in commercial trucks — a profession that requires a person to pilot or maintain a truck for most of their working day — will be one of the first major changes we see when the technology is good enough.

Here's Why It's Not Happening Tomorrow

Let's go back to that last sentence. Truck drivers spend most of their days piloting or maintaining a truck for most of their working day. A computer can only do one of those two things. And those two things aren't even all of what a truck driver does. Drivers plan routes, which is maybe something a computer could do. They also play a critical role in the delivery and loading of their payload.

We may have self-driving cars soon, but we're far from a computer that can climb out of the cabin and tighten down some ratchet straps to make sure that 25,000 pounds of concrete piping don't go rolling down the freeway crushing cars. Even when we have the technology to make trucks safer on the road, we'll still need people there to oversee the more complex or labor-heavy parts of the job.

Feel free to take offense if you feel that your driving skills are a point of pride. There's definitely pride in that. But if you make your living driving trucks, the day when your career is no longer viable is likely far off. It's not a matter of being replaced by a machine, "Terminator"-style — we're just not that far along with the technology.

The realities of being a truck driver are changing — they may someday soon not be called "truck drivers" at all. But whatever it's called, the profession of delivering goods from one place to another aboard a truck will exist. And people will be there doing it.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/56" rel="author">Scott Huntington</a>
Scott Huntington is a writer and journalist from Harrisburg PA who covered movies, tech, cars, and more. Check out his blog Off The Throttle or follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington.




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