October 6, 2022

The Future of Trucking: Hint-There’s No Drivers!

Trucking logistics are a big problem in North America, with lots of goods to be moved and not that many drivers that want to drive those trucks.

Viewpoint Vancouver has been following the development of the autonomous trucking industry where there is no person driving,  and we wrote about the  first autonomous truck delivery way back in 2016. At that time, Budweiser moved two thousand cases of  Budweiser beer from Fort Collins Colorado to Colorado Springs, a roughly 190 kilometer trip on Interstate 25.

There was a driver in the cab at that time but there was no human intervention necessary on this delivery. You can take a look at the Viewpoint Vancouver article on this here.

When you deliver a million truck loads of beer a  year, driverless technology is a way to improve efficiency for a beer company. While it appears that self driving trucks can replace half a million jobs in the United States, or usurp 90 percent of long haul trucking, there’s a reason it is needed.

No one stays driving trucks.

The study as reported in Bloomberg Green by Kyle Stock shows there are 3.3 million truck drivers in the United States but in long-haul trucking the entire workforce turns over every 12 months. Long-haul truck drivers are on the road 300 days a year and make an average of $47,000 USD (about $59,000 Canadian).

It turns out the short-haul routes are more complex, have higher salaries and maintain more experienced drivers. It also appears that the short-haul actual people drivers are going to be in continued demand as autonomous vehicles do well on highways, but not so good off the highways where  the environment is not as easy to program or to plan for.

A proposed alternative is for long-haul transfer stations to be set up at highway exists, where human drivers will drive a truck “the last mile” to or from the original and/or intended destinations.

You can read more about the study here.

And now in Canada Loblaw Companies Ltd. in Ontario has partnered with Palo Alto startup Galik to test five driverless delivery vehicles in the Toronto area. While the trucks have been operating in Ontario for the last two years with a “safety” driver as a backup, the vehicles are now on their routes without a driver.

These trucks do deliveries in the “middle mile”, taking goods from the warehouse to the stores. As written by Susan Robertson in the Globe and Mail, the trucks have six LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors and six radar sensors, as well as 12 cameras.

If the truck does not understand what is in front of it, it pulls over to the side of a road where it can be assisted by a human. The trucks have completed 150,000 deliveries with a safety driver, and now has approval from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to go driverless.

The trucks are part of a demonstration program allowing the trucks on the highways, but Ms. Robertson noted that the Ministry was reluctant to talk about it.

What is surprising with the increased uptake in autonomous driving trucks is that this appears to be a growth area, and may be the primary market for autonomous vehicles.

You can take a look at the CBC YouTube video below that has an interview with  Loblaw’s Technology officer about the driverless trucks.

 

image: pinterest

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Comments

  1. One of the issues with autonomous vehicles is that they don’t do well in poor weather. This makes me worry that if a lot of companies start relying on these and eliminating drivers then storms will cause logistics issues that are considerably worse than we see today.

    1. Post
      Author

      Sean you are absolutely right-if the autonomous trucking vehicle can’t sense what is happening on the sensors, it simply turns onto the side of the road and waits for human intervention. That also suggests a whole new career area in servicing these stranded roadside vehicles, something like a new AAA- Automobile Autonomous Association on standby.

  2. The step by step approach to driverless vehicles beginning with the easiest to automate and/or hardest to find human for, makes sense. No doubt in time it will reduce accidents and energy use.

    The greatest concern I have is for an underlying issue: How do we maintain social cohesion when people without post secondary completion, find two of their most significant employment opportunities disappear.

    I think there are a million people employed as drivers
    right now in Canada.
    Cashiers and clerks is another major area where employment is/will decline.
    As usual the USA is ahead of us. See the effects of loss of hope at
    https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/05/opinion/mortality-penalty-inequality-education.html

    1. Post
      Author

      Ray my research indicates that while driverless technology will go on highways, there is still the need for the specialized transhipment driver that will pick up the vehicle off the highway, and drive it to the various destinations in cities and towns. Technology is not advanced enough to understand the “fiddly bits” of cities which include the ultimate erratic impediment, the human being as a sidewalk user or cyclist. Those shorter hop trucking jobs pay better. Amazon has also abandoned their robot delivery research too, which was getting stuck and also assaulted by humans.

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