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Autonomous trucks, also known as self-driving trucks, are not a new concept in logistics. But, the use of autonomous trucks on a wide scale, as well as the combination of autonomous and electric-powered trucks, is approaching reality, says Tom Huddleston Jr. of Fortune. Unfortunately, fears over the use of autonomous trucks sparked much debate, and shippers may view autonomous trucks as the end-all solution to the capacity crunch. Conversely, drivers in carriers may view the use of such technology with suspicion and fear of loss jobs. While Elon Musk continues to push the use of autonomous semi-trucks forward, as well as the use of autonomous driving technology, the industry stands ready and willing to see how this technology could benefit everyone.

The Issue: The Capacity Crunch Is Worsening, and Drivers Are Scarce

The capacity crunch is growing worse by the day. As explained by Dan Goodwill of Canadian Shipper, shippers face rising rates for all over the road modes of transportation, especially full truckload. This is due to the unregulated nature of full truckload rates. The driver shortage accelerates pace toward a major capacity crunch. The innovation in electric, autonomous semi-trucks represents both an opportunity and hurdle. Carriers will be able to expand their fleets and open capacity, but drivers fear the loss of a living wage. Where does this leave the industry?

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The Solution: Autonomous Trucks Are Integral to the Future of Trucking

Autonomous trucks are coming, and they are integral to overcoming the pitfalls of the current, worsening capacity crunch. However, the true benefit of autonomous trucks derives from an unexpected source. Semi-autonomous trucks, requiring an in-cabdriver, could revolutionize how society views the career of a truck driver, reports Alexis C. Madrigal of the Atlantic.

Autonomous trucks have an even brighter future. Uber projects between 500,00 to 1.5 million autonomous trucks will be on the roads by 2028. Depending on how autonomous trucks are used, they could drive freight costs down, rather than any innovation in history. So, how will it affect the industry as a whole?

The Reward: Self-Driving Trucks Will Reduce Full Truckload Costs and Boost Customer Experiences

Using autonomous technology, these trucks could do the proverbial “heavy lifting” of driving between big cities. When the truck arrives in a high-traffic zone, the driver could take control.

This begs the question, what does the driver do when not actually driving? That is the real kicker. Drivers could be used to perform other tasks, such as providing customer service on the road, reviewing orders, continuing their education and more. This will dramatically increase customer service levels by effectively enabling “a new class of employees.” Since drivers will be doing more than just manning the controls in high-traffic areas, carriers may opt to pay better wages to the driver.

Consider the implications of this scenario on the 89 percent of drivers working with carriers that operate with fewer than five trucks, as explained by Chris Brady. These drivers could take on new roles within small companies, even if they are driver-owned and -operated. Such innovations would serve as a major boost to the US economy while reducing full truckload costs simultaneously.

It is important to remember autonomous trucks will result in more freight shipped via full truckload. While Elon Musk’s brainchild, Tesla, and Uber have made great improvements to the technology, deploying a similar technology on a smaller scale is still in infancy. Of course, we’re talking about drone delivery. Amazon prime air is an example of last-mile delivery using drones, and while autonomous trucks are drones, the technology is not yet capable of delivering packages within the last mile. The technology could be on the horizon, but for now, the wide deployment of autonomous trucks will result in the inevitable demand for more truck drivers to complete the journey. As a result, autonomous trucks will further stimulate the industry.

In a Nutshell…Self-Driving Trucks Are Coming!

The use of self-driving technologies has come under great criticism due to lacking regulation. The industry and the country do not know how to respond. However, Sean Courtney of Bloomberg Government notes legislation to govern self-driving trucks could be brought to the floor for a vote in 2018. This possibility was not explored in the previous blog post on regulations due to the high level of uncertainty surrounding if and when autonomous trucks will be a priority, given legislation for the same purpose was crafted in 2017, failing to come to the floor for a vote in the Senate. A bill on self-driving trucks is inevitable.

Uber, Amazon, Tesla, and Ford represent a fraction of the companies pursuing autonomous trucks, which will lead to pressure for Congress to act. As reported by the International Business Times, if Elon Musk’s response to questions about navigation in Tesla vehicles indicates anything, “Almost done,” implies the same technology will soon be tested, if not readily available, on Tesla’s brand of semi-electric, self-driving trucks. One more thing, when autonomous trucks do take to the roads at last, the role of a 3PL in ensuring stability and scalability for small and mid-sized shippers will become more important.