Fuel and fleet savings, along with a predicted shortage of truckers, may prompt shipping companies to accelerate adoption of driverless trucks.
This past October, beer distributor Anheuser-Busch completed the first ever delivery using an autonomous vehicle. The self-driving trucks, part of a partnership with Uber, may shake up the hauling industry.
“A lot of people thought it was going to happen with cars first,” said Michael Macauley, CEO of Quadrant Information Services, “but the application of this technology is much more practical for the trucking industry.”
In a report, Macauley noted that the primary motive for the widespread adoption of self-driving trucks is economic. “Anheuser-Busch, on whose behalf the maiden Uber/Otto beer delivery was made, estimates that using fuel-efficient, self-driving trucks could lower the company’s diesel consumption by 20 percent to 35 percent, for an annual savings of $40–$50 million.”
According to Morgan Stanley, the trucking industry could save up to $168 billion a year with autonomous technology.
Driverless trucks also avoid a familiar moral problem with self-driving cars: When faced with a decision to run over pedestrians or save a passenger, manufacturers of self-driving cars would likely program the car to save the driver, since the manufacturer’s sales and branding incentive will be tied to keeping the driver safe. A driverless truck — one with no human assistance at all — avoids that dilemma by sacrificing the truck, which would be insured along with its cargo.
The are 3.5 million truck drivers on U.S. roads, but the American Trucking Associations believes these jobs are safe. “You are not going to see a truck without a driver in it for a long time,” Ted Scott from the American Trucking Associations told the Guardian.
However, the ATA also predicts a shortage of 240,000 truck drivers by 2022, which might prompt hauling companies to look into autonomous technology.
Already mining company Rio Tinto is already using 69 Komatsu driverless trucks at two of its mines in Australia. The “autonomous haulage” system is part of Rio Tinto’s effort for a “mine of the future.” The company said that driverless trucks are cheaper and safer than using human drivers, and plans to increase the number of driverless trucks.
Elsewhere, a partnership with Daimler and Peloton Technology, looks to create “truck platoons” – a caravan of driverless trucks with a lead truck containing a driver. Amazon, meanwhile, has been looking into robotics to replace pickers — part of a “warehouse of the future” technology that other large enterprises are also exploring.
Quadrant Information Services, meanwhile, said that the insurance industry needs to get prepared for self-driving trucks. While the self-driving industry has a long way to go before it reaches any kind of stability, the ability to provide coverage for the risk levels at each stage along the way is critical for insurers, the company said.