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Self-Driving Semi’s: Trucking Without The Trucker

Self-Driving Semi’s: Trucking Without The Trucker

The introduction of Uber and Lyft has turned the consumer transportation industry on its head!

The offering of these companies and others like them have allowed additional options for consumers. In addition to Taxi and other livery services consumers have a choice to utilize an on demand service to meet their transportation needs. These newer entries have encountered and overcome tremendous obstacles which has allowed them to expand their footprint domestically and internationally.

Users who desired alternatives are relieved at the opportunity. One may ask how else these services can be expanded. Well, Transfix and Cargomatic are now offering and ride share or Uber like service utilizing their commercial motor vehicle or semi fleet. Passengers are offered an opportunity to ride along with a trained driver to partake in the truck driver life style. Although the details of this offer are still being revealed, the option is available in a limited market which will soon be expanded.

A cousin to these alternative transportation services is automated vehicles. Automated vehicles may bring images of the cartoon show, The Jetsons and the movie, Minority Report. It is well known airplanes, trains and light rail shuttles utilize partial and full automation.

Like it or not, Google has been working for years on a vehicle which drives itself. Like Uber and Lyft they are encountering licensing, regulatory and insurance obstacles. Recently, there have been rumblings and plans to introduce automated semis. These vehicles would be run on their own with a “semi-pilot” ready to take over as needed. Visions of the movie, Maximum Overdrive and the TV show, Knight Rider come to mind.

The benefits to automating the semi fleet are endless. It would allow the vehicles to drive in accordance with regulatory requirements and ensure drivers are not “over doing it”. Further, regulated emissions requirements would be better controlled and handled. The current risks of exhaustion and human error could also be alleviated.

Perhaps this change would reduce the number of drivers required to operate a vehicle. Instead of two drivers being needed to complete a longer “over the road” run, the drivers would be able to ride in the vehicle as a co-pilot, caretaker and “passenger” if everything is going well. In the case a challenge occurs, the human driver would take control of the vehicle. Further it could also increase the number of commercial motor vehicles on the road to complete additional tasks and delivery. This may ultimately reduce prices and increase emerging employment opportunities.

Currently a goal has been set to begin a nationwide semi auto pilot program in 2017. The introduction of this type of service will turn the trucking industry on its head. It is anticipated jobs will be lost and accidents will increase, however, that is not likely. Although it is possible job roles will be transformed or be expanded, the automation does not stop opportunities. New industries may be created due to this change, it is just a matter of finding them.

The amount of effort and expense being introduced into this venture by several experts is tremendous. Mercedes and Freightliner have put their “skin” in the game to build and test this offering. The actual goal is to reduce accidents and add safety elements to driving.

Nevada is the first state to add regulation regarding self-driving vehicles and is seen as a pioneer. There are other states reviewing this option as well. As this change in the industry evolves there are new opportunities for fuel stations and truck stops to offer concierge services for the driver and automated vehicle. Perhaps mobile mechanics, vehicle cleaners and other service providers will see opportunities to expand their businesses to support this emerging industry.

The automation of commercial motor vehicles is definitely a new frontier and will likely take a decade to be widely accepted. Anyone in the trucking industry should prepare for this transition. All are encouraged to utilize any expertise to identify opportunities to support this cutting edge endeavor through entrepreneurial pursuits.

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