Autonomous Trucks: Smokey and the Bandit are Dying.


As I watch Otto deliver beer in a YouTube video, the song “We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there…” keeps playing in my head.

If an adaptation of Smokey and the Bandit is made 20 years from now, it would probably be safe to assume that no one would understand it, and you’ll hear,  “Hey, did you see Tarantino’s adaptation of that movie from the 1970s about illegal alcohol distribution?  I think it’s called Smokey and the Robot???”

If you’ve never seen Smokey and the Bandit, shame on you.

If you have, you already understand that the premise for this movie is fading into the sunset as technology gives birth to autonomous trucks that mitigate human error and solve industry problems.

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Autonomous trucks will result in game changing effects on the logistics and transportation industry.

18 states have already passed legislation regarding the performance guidelines, policies, regulatory tools and actions to be imposed as we scratch the surface of Highly Autonomous Vehicles (HAVs).

In order to keep this short, I’m going to focus on a few specific points related to truck drivers only.  More to come in future posts.

Driver Outlook

Unions, concerned drivers and other interest groups are rallying against the fact that driving, as they know it, is going away.  Here’s the problem, we need someone or something to continue hauling freight for the next 10 years.

Here’s a couple things you should understand about the trucking industry itself before we go any further:

  • Truck Driving is the most popular job in 29 states; 3.5 million employed in the US alone.
  • In 2014 the industry was approx. 40,000 drivers short; it is estimated that number is closer to 100,000 today and expected to almost double by 2024.
  • The bulk shortage in drivers comes from drivers of class 8 tractor-trailers focused mainly on the over-the-road, or non-local, for-hire truckload sector.

Blue truck stopped by automatic braking system

Blue truck stopped by automatic braking system. 3D rendering image.

Driver Turnover

  • It is difficult to find qualified drivers because demand is high.
  • It is hard work, and for an average of $20.00/hour; alternatives to driving exist that keep new drivers from coming on board.
  • The vast majority of driver turnover is from churn in the industry – drivers going from one carrier to another.
    • As demand for drivers increases, trucking companies try to take drivers from other carriers by offering sign-on bonuses, newer trucks, and better routes.

Driver Shortage

I was able to catch up with my friend, Tim Sylvester, CEO of Integrated Roadways.  Tim makes his own roads, literally, and is an expert in the autonomous vehicle space. Keep an eye on Tim.  He’s patented a “smart pavement” system that will soon change urban and logistical infrastructure as we know it.

I wanted to share some of Tim’s insights regarding driver-less trucks and the problems facing the industry.  Tim, please excuse my paraphrase.

Inflation of wages is a major problem for employers.  Per mile compensation has nearly doubled in the last decade as employers raise wages to reduce employee attrition.  Having autonomous trucks as a substitute will relieve this pressure on employers.  

He adds,

The average truck driver is 49 years old.  That average continues to increase year over year, which means new drivers are not coming on fast enough to meet estimated future demand.  Hopefully, autonomous trucks will be coming online just about the time half of the drivers retire.

You will be hearing more from Tim in future installments.  You should also check out his article on Driver-less trucks – We Have Nothing to Fear from Driverless Trucks but Fear Itself.  Follow Tim Sylvester on Medium.

smarter-bg

What are trucking companies doing?

Prime Trucking (PRIME, Inc.) out of Springfield, Missouri is a good example of a firm offering huge incentives to drivers in order to capture and retain.  Here’s a list of some of the perks offered to drivers.

  • Paid apprenticeship and CDL training
  • Discounts on hotel accommodations, golf, and food at select casinos
  • Discounts on hotels across the country
  • Referral incentives
  • Safe driving incentives
  • Educational discounts (30-50%) to drivers and their dependents
  • Performance incentives

Forward Thinking:  Firms like Traft, a Russian trucking firm, is going out of its way to re-train drivers and safeguard future employment.  “We have a lot of organizations lobbying the interests of carriers, but nobody protects their legal rights,” said Ivan Pachko, a spokesperson for Traft. “Truck drivers are advanced people and can handle complex electronics, such as tachograph equipment.”

While driving as we know it may be coming to an end, other opportunities for employment and value propositions will continue to pop up.

Thanks for reading!


Resources:

  1. Integrated Roadways – http://integratedroadways.com/ – You can follow Tim Sylvester on Medium
  2. Traft – https://www.trucks.com/2017/06/05/traft-preparing-truck-drivers-for-autonomous-future/
  3. Self driving trucks and trucking jobs – https://www.trucks.com/2017/05/31/self-driving-trucks-slash-truck-driver-jobs/
  4. Technologies and players in the HAV market – http://www.trucknews.com/blogs/the-technologies-and-the-player/
  5. Legislative information – http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/autonomous-vehicles-self-driving-vehicles-enacted-legislation.aspx
  6. Federal policy information – https://www.transportation.gov/AV/federal-automated-vehicles-policy-september-2016
  7. Driver Fatigue/Driver Regulations – https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/new-hours-service-safety-regulations-reduce-truck-driver-fatigue-begin-today
  8. The Freight Shuttle System – https://tti.tamu.edu/freight-shuttle/
  9. State of Truck Driving – https://greatcdltraining.com/state-of-trucking-2017 http://www.truckinginfo.com/channel/drivers/news/story/2016/12/state-of-trucking-for-2017.aspx
  10. Truck Driver Shortage Analysis – http://www.trucking.org/ATA%20Docs/News%20and%20Information/Reports%20Trends%20and%20Statistics/10%206%2015%20ATAs%20Driver%20Shortage%20Report%202015.pdf

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