Man Versus Machine: Increased Technology in the Trucking Industry

cropped-truck-driving-into-yellow-sunset.jpgIt’s 3:30 in the afternoon and you just caught yourself dozing off for a couple of minutes. Did your boss or any coworkers see? Phew, looks like you got away with one. We’ve all been there, the last couple of hours in the work day are accompanied by an inherent weight on your eyelids.

For truckers, however, dozing off a bit during their shift puts other people’s lives in danger, which has led to a huge increase of technology into the trucking world. The month of May saw the first official tests of a machine-operated truck. Daimler, the company that designed the driverless truck, was granted permission to test the vehicle on the public highways of Nevada. The truck uses a combination of video camera, radar, and GPS to become aware of the other vehicles and objects around it. This grants the driver an opportunity to take a break from the road to check emails, keep in touch with family and friends, and relax on their long haul.

These breaks can allow truckers to stay involved with the technology-dependent world around them, according to a report published by the XRS Corporation. The paper cited the advantages of mobile apps for truckers such as finding weigh stations, better routing options, proof-of-delivery, and vehicle inspection solutions to empower truckers. It also remarked that social media can provide truckers, or anyone, the platform to share both personal and professional experiences with other drivers. These breaks will allow truckers to connect with the world around them for a brief period of time, making their job much less lonely and more humane.

The most challenging part of moving driverless trucks from the testing grounds onto public roads comesin the case of emergency scenarios. There are very serious ethical debates that need to be overcome before the trucks will be granted total autonomy on the roads. When hit at high speeds and imminent crash is approaching, humans make a split-second decision, hopefully based upon the path that is least destructive or dangerous. A truck may not register a person as a person, simply an object. Therefore, they may calculate 2 trees to their left and one person to their right, and veer right because they make explicitly quantitative decisions.

Another daunting question that must be answered before autonomous trucks are thrown into the industry is the displacement of employees. The trucking industry is responsible for 8.7 million jobs, 3.5 million of which are drivers. Surely, as autonomous trucks entered the industry, professional truckers would be forced out of their jobs. From a public safety perspective, however, this could be very beneficial as large trucks were involved in 330,000 crashes in 20212 alone. Supporters of the new trucks claim that once the technology is perfected, it will reduce the amount of accidents by completely cutting out the threat of human error.

Only two states, Nevada and California, have approved licenses for testing of the driverless trucks on public roads. A “safety” driver is required, however, for both states in order to prevent any malfunction of the machines. Wolfgang Bernhart, partner at Roland Berger, a German consultancy, predict s that the market for software of autonomous driving technology could be worth up to $60 million in as little as 15 years. It may seem like speculation at the moment, but the age of driverless vehicles is nearly upon us, and it demands a solution.