By Jacob Cieslinski
November 3, 2023
The truck drove itself,
There are many chances for
Business to evolve.
A very intriguing concept that will come to affect transportation in the future is that of incorporating automation into transportation. As from the Atlas article “transport automation is the pursuit of the goal of removing the human element from transportation systems.” Some companies have been doing just that, testing such automated transportation systems like freight trucks, trains, planes, and aquatic ships that all operate by computing system to get products from point A to point B. These means of transportation would require computer software that can act predictably and react to any circumstances that occur during shipment. Furthermore, this computing system would require sensors to indicate vehicles around it as well as natural obstacles. Lastly, the computing software would also need a reliable network to communicate with server data to indicate where it is and where to go to facilitate success.
With all the new concepts there will be unknowns that leave people weary of what’s to come. One looming fear is whether or not computing software can safely travel without causing more danger to human life. This concern is warranted as this technology is still new with many unknowns, but many believe that it will actually be safer using automated forms of transportation. Without people operating the different modes of transportation there will no longer be human error from people being impaired, tired, or even distracted. With a reduction in human error, it is predicted that less accidents will occur. Additionally, computers are understandably able to react to occurrences at a much faster rate while also being able to have a better view of the world by taking advantage of technologies like infrared spectrum, echolocation, and satellites to provide a better view of its surroundings than humans could ever possess (1).
As for labor, this is also a great solution to a growing problem in the world when it comes to truck driver shortages. As from Deloitte Insights, there was a shortage of 60,000 drivers in 2018 and is only expected to grow as much as 160,000 by 2028 (2). Not only will it address the shortages that delay production and delivery of materials but can also open further job opportunities for people without having to be on the road for a majority of their life. This contrasts with what many people believe would harm unemployment with the loss of driving, piloting, and sailing jobs. The new job market would be in production of sensors and other computing software to supplement the increased demands along with a need for maintenance and cyber security to keep ships, trucks, and planes moving.
Moving on to how these computing systems can increase efficiency, one example would be a decrease in capital put towards travel time. This can be seen with traffic jams, that are almost always caused by human error (1), whether someone steps on the brakes late forcing them to stop harder or even someone being in a rush performs a non-safe move causing an accident. It is believed that computing systems will be able to cut down on the incidents that affect travel efficiency because those systems will not get distracted, can adjust speed, stop based on surroundings, and even anticipate areas of congestion to compensate route ahead of time reducing the time needed to get products to its desired location.
Continuing the idea of efficiency, Deloitte believes that the role of intelligent automation is to achieve greater efficiencies. As from the Hillwood’s Mobility Innovation Zone in Alliance, Texas, autonomous freight is expected to reduce costs 28% to 50% of the revenue as driving labor costs would become almost nonexistent except for a few key employees overseeing the operation to ensure everything is continuing without delays. This indicates that the company will be able to deliver more per dollar spent which is the true goal of transportation efficiency.
AI is not only being introduced into large scale shipping but also in last-mile shipping as well. This is evident by 32% of last-mile providers investing in autonomous and robotic solutions (3). Their solutions include using drones and droids to deliver packages to customers in order to avoid traffic delays and lower costs by avoiding roadways and other high traffic situations. UPS has led this category by example using unmanned drones to deliver medical samples to hospitals. Those drones are a result of a collaboration with Matternet and has reduced costs not only for UPS but also the people in need of the medical solutions as the research was delivered faster by flying through the air in order to avoid traffic while also traveling in a straight line due to not having to turn down roads as they were not designed to give the public a straight shot from location to location.
Looking to the future, many companies have already been investigating how this subject can better their own sectors. This is seen in the aquatic shipping sector where over 50 different companies have been working to automate not only the water bearing ships but also the ports that load and unload them. Another example would be Daimler and Waymo who have focused much of their efforts into automating trucking. Daimler has had success in developing their autonomous truck as they are expecting to have their products on the market for consumers as early as 2027 (4). Even though large strides are being made to make this dream a reality, it is believed that the industry is decades away from being implemented widespread as believed by many companies and the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future (5).
With all the opportunity to increase business efficiency and the massive improvements made over recent years there is one looming question, why is widespread implementation of driverless shipping decades away? One explanation would be that companies are looking to gradually implement this technology from region to region based on success (5). Adding to the delay is the current cost to implement this new concept. Currently, autonomous trucking is not cost competitive with conventional trucking, but a combination in increasing the amount of autonomous trucks and further advancements in automation support is expected to decrease the operating cost per truck (6). Another problem in implementing autonomous trucks is politics as evident in California with its prohibition of autonomous trucking. Lastly, an operation’s ability to facilitate autonomous trucking will also delay the timeframe as seen in the past with slow implementation of lower-level advanced driver assistance systems. Adding to this idea, a company will need to change their current operating model to facilitate this new shipping method and their ability to change their operating models will delay implementation as this is not a quick or simple concept (6).
Interpretation of haiku
This haiku is relatively self-explanatory as the first line, “The truck drove itself,” is an indication of the way businesses are looking at transportation and how self-driving rail systems, ships, and trucks can be incorporated into the business. The next two lines make a general statement about how much of an opportunity automation is for the transportation industry to make a push forward for business efficiency. Additionally, evolution is a drastic change and if autonomous transportation network can successfully be developed, then the whole world of business will drastically change.
(1) Matheson, Alex. “Transport Automation – The Road Ahead.” Atlas, weareatlas.com/resources/articles/transport-automation/. Accessed 19 Sept. 2023.
(2) Joe  Chmielewski, et al. “The Journey toward a Touchless Network through Intelligent Automation.” Deloitte Insights, Deloitte, 10 May 2021, www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/transportation/the-role-of-intelligent-automation-in-the-movement-of-goods.html.
(3) Yan, Lidia. “Council Post: Automation Is The Future Of Trucking, But It’s Not All About Autonomous Driving.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 3 May 2021, http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2021/05/03/automation-is-the-future-of-trucking-but-its-not-all-about-autonomous-driving/.
(4) Bishop, Richard. “Big Dawgs in Automated Trucking Make Big Moves towards Commercialization.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 22 Aug. 2023, http://www.forbes.com/sites/richardbishop1/2023/08/21/big-dawgs-in-automated-trucking-make-big-moves-towards-commercialization/?sh=fb47823fbbf6.
(5) The Trucker News Staff. “Widespread Use of Autonomous Vehicles at Least a Decade Away, Say MIT Researchers.” TheTrucker.Com, 27 July 2020, http://www.thetrucker.com/trucking-news/equipment-tech/widespread-use-of-autonomous-vehicles-at-least-a-decade-away-say-mit-researchers.
(6) Girling, Will. “Market Adoption of ‘driver out’ Truck Tech Is Still Far Away.” Automotive World, 2 Aug. 2023, http://www.automotiveworld.com/articles/market-adoption-of-driver-out-truck-tech-is-still-far-away/.