There are regular articles on self-driving trucks on the internet; and for both old trucker drivers and would be new truck drivers, this news sounds alarming as they may soon be out of a job! Relax- there is a big difference in what is being written about self-driving trucks and what is reality. To know where truck drivers stand, read below.
Mankind has been experimenting on self-driving vehicles since the 1920s and after nearly a century, it is still extremely rare to see self-driving cars on the road. Sure, a lot of automation has been introduced in cars but the actual driving without a driver is still a far cry.
Self-driving trucks lag behind autonomous cars; the first long-distance test drive involving a self-driving truck from LA to Philly was only done a few months ago and was relatively successful. But this was a closely monitored drive under controlled conditions. It will be at least another decade before this type of driving becomes regular on US roads.
Self Driving Trucks Current Technology
Advances in technology have enabled trucks to have an automatic braking system, lane departure protection, and automatic lane centering and driving in the lane but there are still more issues to be resolved with autonomous trucks. The biggest problem with self-driving trucks is that these vehicles are not only much bigger than cars, but they also carry cargo and operate under a variety of conditions.
In many cases, the problem is nothing to do with the technology, it is the other drivers on the road who may not always obey traffic rules. No amount of technology will ever replace a human being who can think and make instant decisions when driving a truck.
While several companies have invested in technology to produce the ultimate self-driving truck, the laws that govern the operation of such trucks still have not been fully laid out. There is no question that self-driving trucks will one day improve fuel efficiency, reduce costs, improve productivity and lead to less traffic congestion. That is all good on paper, but in real life, it will probably a decade or two, so before self-driving trucks become routine.
Current State of Self Driving Trucks
Some of the companies interested in developing self-driving trucks include Daimler, Waymo, Tesla, Embark, TuSimple, and Uber (who has just withdrawn to pursue their interest in self-driving cars only). What is very important to understand is that all these companies have been testing self-driving trucks on US and European roads for several years. In every case, these vehicles still have drivers behind the wheel as a backup.
The liability of having no human driver in the truck is enormous and a single traffic death would lead to serious litigation. Now, all these companies and manufacturers of self-driving trucks are also advocating the presence of a live human truck driver in the vehicle. Maybe someday, these trucks will be completely autonomous but today the risks of having no driver in the truck are enormous.
Current Issues With Automation
Despite the enormous amount of money already invested in self-driving trucks, questions remain regarding the safety of present-day technology. Besides Google, several of the other companies have tested self-driving cars and to date, about 50 accidents have been reported.
This is encouraging but a self-driving car involved in a car accident is much different than a truck, which is many times bigger and does take time to come to a complete stop once the brakes have been applied. The chances of a serious injury are much higher when one is involved with a truck than a car.
The use of radars, cameras and other sensors in trucks continue to reveal more problems. These instruments have the potential to be blinded by the sun, may have problems differentiating large objects from other vehicles, and become impaired by various weather conditions. Finally driving a truck in a city is much more difficult because of the numerous lights, pedestrian and school crossing, merging lanes, yield signs, four-way stops, etc and all these could be a problem for an autonomous truck without a driver.
How soon will Autonomous Trucks be on the roads?
Experts in the vehicle industry state that within the next ten years, one will start to see driver-less semi-truck’s on the roads. However judging from the history of self-driving cars, the technology for self-driving trucks still needs to be perfected.
Further state and federal laws will need to be updated and more important who will be responsible for an accident when there is no driver. The manufacturer, the computer programmer, the mechanic, the controller, or the owner of the car?
So, will truck drivers be out of a job any time soon?
It is also important to be aware that even when self-driving trucks will be introduced, the initial entry will be controlled and limited to certain roads and highways. Until safety is established, self-driving trucks will only be permitted in certain areas.
But will present-day truck drivers lose their jobs? Absolutely not. In fact, experts indicate that more drivers will be needed. So far every company that has been testing the self-driving trucks indicate that a driver must be present in the vehicle at all times because there will be times when human decision and judgment is necessary.
The more high tech the truck, the more likely it is that something has the potential to go wrong. In addition, in the presence of an accident or even a flat tire, human interaction and presence are necessary.
The only meaningful contribution of self-driving trucks is that the driver can rest and not have to do manual driving. Just like an airplane, automation can fly the aircraft but pilots still need to be present when the aircraft has to take off and land.
The Conclusion on Autonomous Trucking
Because all the testing of self-driving trucks to date has been with the presence of a driver, present-day truckers should not fear a job loss, but in fact, remain in high demand. However, it is also important to be realistic about the future; autonomous trucks will be on the US roads one day and help improve freight efficiency, reduce accidents and save lives.
However, this will not happen overnight; perhaps a few decades from now. So for those who are interested in a career as a truck driver, rest assured, you will not be seeing the self driving-vehicles on the roads anytime soon and your job is assured.
What do you think about trucks that drive themselves? Let us know in the comments!