How would you feel if you could binge watch Netflix, enjoy some takeout and catch up on current events—all while getting paid by the mile in your big rig? With self-driving trucks, this futuristic idea may not be so far off. But then again, how many of you have seen the movie I, Robot?
Since early May, Daimler has been testing their self-driving trucks on public highways in Nevada. These trucks are controlled by a computer system using a combination of GPS, radar and video cameras to identify obstacles on the road.
Although these autonomous carriers still require a present driver in case an error occurs and the truck needs taken over, the truck still has the power to accelerate, break, steer and come to an emergency stop. However, these trucks currently work solely on highways and require a driver when approaching city limits.
This technology in self-driving trucks can be comparable to the autopilot used on airplanes, but then again, there are fewer obstacles in the air when compared to a road or major highway.
The driver shortage is already hitting the trucking industry hard, so why test and develop self-driving trucks during a growing driver shortage?
- Trucks may reduce collisions from tired drivers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2012 there were 330,000 large trucks involved in crashes, and from those crashes, 4,000 people were killed and nearly 500 of those deaths were pedestrians.
- Preparing for an even greater driver shortage. In the case that younger generations don’t pick up trucking, these self-driving trucks are coving the industry. Even though the number of drivers is decreasing, the need for trucking goods is not going away.
- Boost productivity and cut fuel emissions. Once this technology is perfected, trucks will travel more miles while producing less greenhouse gasses.
- Man replaced by machine. Building tucks with computer hardware that could value $40-60 million could make trucks more valuable than their drivers, almost making the drivers like accessories to a computer system.
- Impact millions of jobs. According to the American Trucker Association, the U.S. employs 8.7 million trucking-related jobs, so these autonomous trucks could impact millions of people on some level.
- Cyber attacks. There is a big catch 22 here. Humans build these trucks, and just like a computer can be hacked, someone can hack into the database and take control of your truck. Not to mention, electronics aren’t perfect—computers can crash just like two big rigs colliding on the highway.
Another thing to take into consideration is how a computer-operated vehicle would react to ethical dilemmas, if at all. For example, if a collision were unavoidable and the truck had to hit someone, should the truck hit a mother with her newborn or three cancer patients on a morning walk?
Although there is a long way to go before trucks could navigate on the road without a supervisor, it seems that computer controlled trucks is what the industry is working towards.
But don’t take my word for it; see for yourself what these self-driving trucks are all about.