What is the Future of Autonomous Trucking? by@devinpartida

What is the Future of Autonomous Trucking?

Autonomous trucks have begun making deliveries to Sam’s Club locations in the Dallas, Texas market. People familiar with the matter say the switch will help the company meet labor needs and replenish goods more frequently while achieving cost savings. Some experts believe autonomous trucks could help address prevailing supply chain problems. The first stage of the process began in July 2022 and involved the trucks traveling to 34 Sam's Club locations. A European Union-funded project that tested autonomous shuttle buses in bad conditions in Finland could shed some light on the matter.
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Devin Partida

Devin is the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack. She covers cybersecurity, business technology and more.

Working as a professional truck driver requires long hours on the road, spending time away from loved ones and learning to appreciate solitude. However, as technology improves, many people wonder if autonomous trucks could meet some of the world’s supply chain needs. Here’s a closer look at what the future may hold 

Plans in the Works to Service Autonomous Vehicles at Truck Stops

Today’s professional truckers get much-needed breaks at truck stops strategically located along highways. While there, they can fuel their vehicles, take hot showers and get freshly prepared meals. As autonomous trucks have more frequently become part of conversations, people have pointed out that those vehicles will need service during their journeys. 

A collaboration between two companies will pave the way for what autonomous truck service stations entail. The first one to come about during a pilot project will be in Atlanta, Georgia. Some likely services there will include infrastructure for data transfers, inspections and truck maintenance. However, as autonomous vehicles become more common sights on roads worldwide, that real-world usage will certainly help shape decisions about what these locations should include. 

Autonomous Trucks Bring Essentials to Sam’s Club Locations

Decision-makers consider using autonomous trucks for numerous reasons. At Sam’s Club, autonomous trucks have begun making deliveries to retail outlets in the Dallas, Texas market. People familiar with the matter say the switch will help the company meet labor needs and replenish goods more frequently while achieving cost savings. 

The trucks used for this effort have 26-foot trailers. That makes them smaller than the 53-foot trailers on the conventional trucks that previously handled the job. However, they’ll operate 24 hours a day, which might make up for how they’re not as large. Company leaders will also not need to abide by federal prevailing wage requirements for drivers. Those vary depending on the work performed and how long the trucker spends at a site. 

The people involved in this switch to autonomous trucking also plan to expand beyond the Dallas area. However, the first stage of the process began in July 2022 and involved the trucks traveling to 34 Sam’s Club locations. They’ll carry products like toilet paper and plastic cups. Some experts believe autonomous trucks could help address prevailing supply chain problems. The high-tech trucks won’t be magic fixes, but people may use them as part of more-extensive strategies. 

Autonomous Trucks May Cut Driver Hours

Research from the University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University sought to pinpoint how and where autonomous trucks could have the biggest impact on driver hours. The main takeaway was that the effects of automation probably wouldn’t happen all at once. 

More specifically, there would be about a 10% reduction in driver hours if automation mainly impacted Sun Belt states. These include Florida, Arizona and Texas. However, the figure rises to a startling 94% if autonomous trucks successfully operate in all weather conditions across the continental United States. 

Autonomous trucks have full arrays of high-tech equipment. However, many of them still need safety drivers on board to intervene if things go wrong. In such cases, people who started driving trucks in the usual way might get placed into these new roles. Then, they go through job transition rather than loss. In other instances, the autonomous trucks look like pods and have no room to accommodate drivers. 

Safety Concerns Could Limit Adoption Rates 

The media is full of coverage about the positive opportunities autonomous trucks could bring. However, some members of the public remain hesitant. A poll of Pennsylvania residents showed only 17% felt comfortable sharing the road with these vehicles. 

Some people also worry whether autonomous vehicles can perform well in inclement weather. A European Union-funded project that tested autonomous shuttle buses in bad conditions in Finland could shed some light on the matter, though. 

In just the first week of the trial, the shuttle buses performed well in snowstorms, icy weather and extreme cold. Participating passengers initially had their doubts. However, many were pleasantly surprised, with some saying the trip felt identical to normal bus rides. 

Autonomous trucks aren’t immune to safety issues, though. An April 2022 incident with a vehicle operated by TuSimple involved it veering across a highway and slamming into a concrete barricade. A TuSimple spokesperson said the company prioritizes safety, and this accident did not injure anyone. 

However, some people who analyzed the matter believe it happened due to fundamental issues with the company’s technology. If that’s true, it might have been more than an unexpected mishap and could be a more prominent risk than people realize. 

Autonomous Trucks Have Made Lots of Progress

It wasn’t long ago that autonomous trucks remained firmly in the realm of future possibilities rather than actual options. That’s changed, although it’ll still be a while before autonomous trucks become widespread. Even so, the lessons learned from these ongoing efforts will undoubtedly prove valuable moving forward.

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