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Reshaping the Freight Industry: Self-Driving Semi-Trucks

Self-driving semi-trucks are on their way and heading to U.S. roads during 2024 despite job fears, lack of regulation, and public concerns.

Test drives have been conducted in some states such as Texas, Florida, Arizona, and New Mexico due to the rarity of snow and ice weather. However, this was with a human driver behind the wheel monitoring the automated truck. What will potentially happen later this year will be twenty driverless trucks with plans for freight hauling starting on Interstate 45 between Dallas and Houston, Texas. One line is owned by a Pittsburgh-based company named Aurora Innovations Inc. that will carry loads between terminals for FedEx, Uber Freight, and many others. They plan that within the next three to four years, there will be thousands of self-driving semi-trucks supplied by not only them, but by their competitors such as TuSimple, Embark, and Locomation. TuSimple has already been hauling goods with its fleet of forty autonomous trucks between freight depots in Phoenix, Tucson, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio. Just like with the other test drives, a human driver is still present. Yet in 2024, TuSimple also hopes to achieve a higher level of autonomy and remove the human aspect altogether under certain conditions.

Self-driving semi-trucks are equipped with twenty-five lasers, radar, and camera sensors.

They should also feature special braking and steering systems, redundant powertrain controls, and cybersecurity safeguards. The sensors spot items on the road a quarter mile or one thousand meters ahead, further than the human eyes, such as trash cans, tires, and tree branches. This allows the trucks to move into a different lane that is not obstructed by the obstacle they detect. Other vehicles are also detected with the 360 views of the semi-truck system. These self-driving semi-trucks will be the first computer-controlled vehicles deployed widespread on public roads with no real federal regulation. The semi-trucks will only travel on certain routes and under specific conditions. Because of the lack of federal regulations on these types of vehicles, the public will have to trust the companies assessing the semi-trucks. However, deployment will also hinge on public acceptance.

The majority of Americans say that they fear riding in an autonomous vehicle, let alone being on the road driving next to one as large as an 80,000-pound driverless semi-truck.

Aurora Innovations Inc. and other companies have already come out saying that years of testing show that their trucks will be safer than a human-driven one. Their reasoning includes the sensors on the trucks that can detect conditions farther in advance to allow for longer stopping distance and the trucks never tire or become impaired like they would with human drivers. Hours of service regulations would also no longer be a constraint since it only limits human driving times, allowing for faster delivery times. Yet if anything does go wrong, recalls or making the semi-trucks “out of service” can occur.

To help mitigate these issues, a few concepts are in the works.

The first involves utilizing the driverless semi’s as long-haul trucks. Human drivers would then do the final legs of the journey by swapping trailers at transfer hubs thus allowing the driverless semi-trucks to avoid urban driving areas associated with the final mile. A benefit being highlighted by this concept is that by automating some long-haul truck routes in hub-to-hub freight operations, autonomous trucking companies could then shift some human driver jobs from long haul truckload operations, where turnover rates are high, to short-haul routes. In return, this provides more home time for the drivers and a better match preference for younger drivers. It would also help with the truck driver shortage which is at an estimated 64,000 drivers. Yet, these self-driving semi-trucks can also completely take over hauling freight goods and eventually cost human truck drivers their jobs, while at the same time creating jobs for maintenance technicians and dispatchers.

Another concept would be that the semi-trucks would be virtually supervised by remote drivers in an office that would intervene if the semi-truck stops or encounters unexpected obstacles.

Reshaping the freight trucking world can be scary, beneficial, and right around the corner where self-driving semi-trucks will need to navigate chaotic freeways. Just like in most cases of innovative technology, it is just a matter of time.

Nick Koutroulis
Nick Koutroulis
Beginning his journey in logistics in 2006, Nick Koutroulis brings a wealth of experience to his role at MTS Logistics. Guided by the legacy of his grandfather, Captain Nick Koutroulis, a notable figure in the Gulf's shipping industry during the 70s, Nick is dedicated to not just meeting but exceeding the high standards set before him. His comprehensive background in every aspect of shipping has enabled him to provide exceptional customer service, setting him apart in the industry. Nick’s vision extends beyond the traditional scope of freight forwarding, aiming to build solid partnerships with customers through trust and integrity. Emphasizing actions over words, he is committed to strengthening relationships with clients by proving reliability and honesty are more than just values; they are a way of life in logistics.
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