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Robotic Trucks: A Look inside the Future of the Trucking Industry
Picture this: driving down the highway and telling your children about how when you were young, trucks used to have friendly drivers who would honk their horn for fun if you asked nicely. They look out the window at the truck travelling next to you, disbelief evident on their face as they stare at the windowless, driverless, hulk of a machine hauling an oversized load. Believe it or not, it could become a reality in the coming decades.
While still in its infancy, automated trucking technologies have a promising future. In recent years Google has been in the news with their driverless civilian vehicles, and similar press releases can be found on Intel’s website as they advertise the advent of their own driverless technology. Taking this idea and adapting it for commercial use could increase productivity and safety across many industries.
Changes to infrastructure could be made easier as grading the land and moving dirt could be done with minimal human intervention. This would likely make roads safer during construction as drivers would not have to worry about construction crews on the edge of lanes of travel. Trucks hauling hazardous materials or driving in dangerous conditions would no longer have to risk human lives in order to get the job done.
The vision of a futuristic, fully automated truck as a common sight is likely far off. It would take a considerable investment of time and resources on the part of current commercial companies in order to exchange their existing fleet for fully automated vehicles. Luckily, the pioneers of this automated truck technology have thought of that too.
A great option being developed is a system that would retrofit current commercial vehicles for automated use. This type of system is fairly rudimentary, and would simply augment the truck’s existing tech to essentially turn it into a big remote controlled car. This would require direct human supervision, though. The person controlling the truck would not have to be physically inside the truck with this option, but would still have to be on site in order to ensure safe operation of the remote controlled vehicle.
Ideally, this remote control technology could be coupled with audio-visual systems that would allow the required supervision to become remote. This could result in future job sites having dozens of cameras and lights rigged to ensure constant visibility, and 24/7 operation of vehicles organized from a remote facility to keep workers out of harm’s way. This type of in-between solution would be limited in scope to stationary job sites; ensuring constant oversight of, say, a truck hauling freight cross-country, would be nearly impossible.
Fully automated trucks with the required artificial intelligence systems to haul freight to perform other unsupervised jobs are merely a glint on the horizon in terms of the commercial trucking industry. This is for a few reasons, not the least of which is cost. The automated solution that still require supervision would allow retro-fitting on a company’s existing fleet. If a company needed completely robotic trucks they would have to entirely replace their fleet. Depending on the size of the fleet and the profitability of the particular job, this may not be worth the expense until the technology is commonplace. Additionally, this type of major overhaul in the way a company does business would likely require procedural changes that could take a substantial amount of time to implement.
If the industry does go the automated route, a massive amount of the current workforce would be laid off. Some would be able to retain employment working in the facilities that controlled supervised vehicles, but the need for this type of work would employ far fewer people than the current need for truck drivers. Only time will tell if there is a willingness to change an industry that has become America’s lifeblood, into simply a fleet of drones. If this sounds like the career for you, visit Drive Armellini.