Who would have thought that driverless cars and driverless trucks could be anything but science fiction or something out of a comic book or cartoon? In the last few years, technology companies have made huge strides in making “auto-pilot” vehicles a reality. Their products keep getting better and better — who knows what the future will hold for the roads of tomorrow?
High-tech companies and major auto makers are racing to see who will lead the market on this cutting edge of transportation. Much of the technology already exists. For instance, driverless cars produced by the huge Google corporation drove themselves more than a million miles in their first pilot trials and now fleets of Google cars are being tested in some cities.
Some cars and truck cabs are already designed with all kinds of sensors and modules that allow vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-structure communications. These sensors can help drivers avoid running into cars, trucks, walls, poles, and other objects. Meanwhile other communications systems in the vehicle can call for help if an accident occurs. Driverless cars will have the means to maintain a very precise awareness of objects in their space and will take action to avoid collisions.
It’s likely that we will see a gradual evolution toward cars and trucks heading down the highway without a driver in the front seat. Vehicles will become increasingly “smart.” We’ll slowly see the operation of the vehicle shifting toward the machine having equal – or more—control than the human. Moving from driver-only to driver-assisting to autonomous control will be a complex process.
For many reasons, economic and practical, this transformation is far down the road. However, when it does happen, having trucks and cars operating on auto-pilot and on artificial intelligence will bring significant benefits for trucking companies:
- Very low number of crashes: Highway safety would improve dramatically as almost all accidents are caused by human error.
- Less need for highway patrol and police intervention: Cars and trucks are programmed to follow traffic laws and stay within speed limits.
- Much less traffic congestion: With finely tuned sensors permitting less space between vehicles, more cars and trucks could be on the same stretch of road.
- Decreased costs and shorter delivery time: Autonomous trucks can drive all day, with few labor costs and no hours-of-service concerns.
While driverless trucks will reduce the number of employed truck drivers, the freight industry is already struggling with an increasing shortage of qualified drivers. On top of some 30,000 unfilled positions needing drivers across the industry, trucking company owners see that many drivers don’t stay long. Long-haul, OTR driving is a very demanding field and tough on the drivers and their families. Some experts put the turnover rate as high as 92% a year. Yet more and more shippers continue to need truckers on the road to deliver goods to a growing population.
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