Will The Trucking Industry be Disrupted in Time?

Truck Platooning


Self-driving cars are back in the news, or should I say semi self-driving cars. Last week Uber made 1000 of its semi-autonomous cars available for ridesharing, however each one of them comes with a safety driver to take manual control in certain situations. This pilot study is a real-world test of the technology developed by the robotics scientists in Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center based in Pittsburgh. This team of robotics scientists was recruited from Carnegie Mellon’s University’s Robotics Institute 18 months ago, the very same folks who put the Mars Rover on Mars!

Uber Becomes a Serious Player in the Logistics Industry

Last month Uber topped this team up by buying out Otto, the 90 person startup focused on developing self-driving truck technology which I featured in “Is Otto the Savior of the Long Haul Trucking Fleet?”

In an article from Supply Chain 24/7 , and I quote:

Otto’s technology will eventually be used to start a cargo service for long-haul trucking, claims Bloomberg. It will be designed to work with Uber’s current intracity delivery services. It’s not clear if Uber plans to compete with package delivery firms like UPS and FedEx, but it’s easy to see how that sort of program could complement the company’s other offerings.

So now you can see where I’m heading with this. Uber is working on a vision for tomorrow’s long-haul and last mile freight delivery. And they have the people and money to do it.

Self Driving Trucks Will Arrive Before Self Driving Cars

Self-driving trucks are going to be reality well before self-driving cars. There is a number of reasons for this:

  • In 2014 the US logistics and transportation industry totaled $1.45 trillion, 8.3% of annual gross domestic product (GDP). If technology companies can find solutions that move freight from A to B faster and cheaper they stand to win a piece of a very large pie.
  • Technology is less expensive than humans.
  • Developing technology to travel on highways is far easier than for urban city streets.

It Starts With Platooning

Truck manufacturers expect truck platooning to start on highways and freeways in 2020. This is automated driving technology which links trucks via Wi-Fi, GPS, sensors, and cameras so they can travel semi-autonomously behind one another. The leading rig dictates speed and direction, while the rest automatically steer, accelerate and break in a closely spaced convoy.

The primary benefits of platooning a fuel efficiency. The lead truck saves up to 4.5% with following trucks saving up to as much is 10%. It doesn’t take a big leap to figure out that at some point in the future there will be no need for drivers in the following trucks, saving as much as an additional 30% of freight cost per truck.

Will Disruption Arrive in Time?

The trucking industry right now is in big trouble. According to Noel Perry, senior partner, at the 2016 FTR conference

The persistent driver shortage will worsen and continue to restrict trucking’s capacity, and it will be compounded by coming regulations. Capacity utilization will skyrocket, because carriers simply can’t get enough drivers to offset the fact that regulations changed.

In plain speak that means not enough trucks or drivers to go round, rates go up, and shippers start looking for alternative means of transport such as rail. Will self-driving rigs arrive quick enough to disrupt the trucking industry and save it in the process? That’s an open question and the jury is out.

If you’re interested in learning how shipping by rail might better meet your freight transportation needs call New Mexico Transloading at 505 – 908 – 1911. We’d be delighted to have a conversation with you.

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