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.
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.