Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog from our friend Jake Rheude, Director of Marketing, with Red Stag Fulfillment.
$700 billion – that’s the value of the trucking transportation industry. The impressive figure shouldn’t be all that surprising, though, given that the transport of goods reaches nearly every corner of the economic landscape in the United States. Trucks move everything from retail products to commodities, creating an interconnected network that most consumers fail to recognize fully. Although there is no argument that the future of transportation will include growth over the next decade, there is heated debate about how that growth will take place.
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The size of the transportation industry provides an opportunity to countless companies and individuals, from those interested in the freight brokerage business to drivers who want to create their own path. However, the opportunistic environment of transportation has also made it ripe for disruption. The advancing technology scene has made its way to trucking by way of autonomous driving, with more than $1 billion in capital infused into the industry within the last few years. Companies like Uber, Telsa, and the like are focusing some of their energy on making waves in self-driving trucks, and that shift has the potential to change the industry for good.
Where Self-Driving Trucks Stand Now
The addition of self-driving trucks on the highways is closer than some feel comfortable admitting, with companies in the autonomous vehicle sector falling firmly into two camps. First, there are self-driving start-ups working on solutions to assist human drivers on the road; then, there are companies keenly focused on replacing human drivers altogether with robotics and computers. Both sets of companies are making headway, but those focused on driver-assisted technology may be more commonplace before fully autonomous trucks.
The reason a roadway packed with completely self-driving trucks isn’t on the horizon for several more years can be linked back to the concerns both lawmakers and everyday drivers have about the prospect. Although some argue that autonomous vehicles have the ability to maneuver city streets and straight shot freeways perfectly, trucks require more complex technology than cars due to their size. Predictions put self-driving cars on the roads by 2020, but the same likely won’t be true for large trucks.
Additionally, the majority of road users are not sold on the idea of computers and robots behind the proverbial wheel. Many feel as though human driving skills, including reaction time to potential accidents, are superior to machine-infused vehicles. Until there is widespread ease about the level of safety on the roads with human and autonomous trucks sharing space, self-driving trucks may remain a pipedream.
What’s Ahead the Future of Transportation
While there are some reasons for pause with rolling out fleets of robotic trucks, the transportation industry is set for change in the future. Looking ahead, when regulation, consumer acceptance, and safety concerns are all on board, autonomous trucks have the potential to shift how transportation takes place within the United States. Most experts cite the benefits of self-driving trucks to include cost savings to merchants and customers, a shift toward electric vehicles as opposed to gas-powered trucks, as well as an overall safer roadway for all drivers. These advantages to autonomous driving are undeniable, which creates some worry for those who rely on human-driven trucks as part of their livelihood. Without the need for a physical person behind the wheel, hundreds of thousands of truckers could be without a job, and several hundred freight brokers and other related businesses without a path forward. However, there is a clear need for investment in infrastructure and fool-proof technology before these changes become a reality for the transportation industry.
The idea of a fully autonomous roadway is still a concept in the works and as such, truckers and others impacted by fewer human drivers can breathe easy for the next few years. When self-driving trucks to make their grand entrance, it will likely not resemble a widespread scrap of humans behind the wheel. Instead, the future of transportation and autonomous trucks has a greater potential to involve a combination of self-driving vehicles and the real, live people who keep the industry running efficiently and safely.