AI News, Semi-Autonomous Trucks May Drive Across the Country In Platoons

Semi-Autonomous Trucks May Drive Across the Country In Platoons

Trucking may soon involve convoys of electric, semi-autonomous big rigs driving cross country.

Tesla’s much-anticipated debut of an electric semi-truck on Thursday night has spurred debate about the future of trucking, especially how advances in autonomous driving technology could make many truck driving jobs obsolete.

in which multiple trucks follow closely behind a lead truck to take advantage of reduced wind resistance while using sensors and radar technology to synchronize their speeds and routes.

Meanwhile, the industry will continue to ponder what innovations like Tesla’s new electric semi-truck—which is pitched as having a range of 500 miles on a single charge while carrying 80,000 pounds—mean for an industry that employs more than 3 million truck drivers.

Exclusive: Tesla developing self-driving tech for semi-truck, wants to test in Nevada

The correspondence and meeting show that Tesla is putting self-driving technology into the electric truck it has said it plans to unveil in September, and is advancing toward real-life tests, potentially moving it forward in a highly competitive area of commercial transport also being pursued by Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and Alphabet Inc’s Waymo.

After announcing intentions a year ago to produce a heavy-duty electric truck, Musk tweeted in April that the semi-truck would be revealed in September, and repeated that commitment at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in June, but he has never mentioned any autonomous-driving capabilities.

They see the industry as a prime early market for the technology, citing the relatively consistent speeds and little cross-traffic trucks face on interstate highways and the benefits of allowing drivers to rest while trucks travel.

“To insure we are on the same page, our primary goal is the ability to operate our prototype test trucks in a continuous manner across the state line and within the States of Nevada and California in a platooning and/or Autonomous mode without having a person in the vehicle,”

While established trucking companies and truck manufacturing startups have poured resources into electrifying local package delivery fleets, battery range limitations have largely kept the industry from making electric trucks that travel across swaths of the country.

Diesel trucks used for cross-country hauls by United Parcel Service Inc can travel up to 500 miles (800 km) on a single tank, according to UPS’s director of maintenance and engineering, international operations, Scott Phillippi.

What Does Tesla's Automated Truck Mean for Truckers?

You probably won't get rich doing it, but driving a truck is an option for those—men, in many cases—who might otherwise have done the kind of factory work that's left the country in the last three decades or so.

The American Trucking Associations reports the annual driver turnover for large truckload carriers reached a whopping 90 percent this year, and it projects a 50,000-driver shortage by the end of 2017.

And, better, autonomous driving on highways should be easier to figure out than driving in cities, because those big rigs don't need to navigate pedestrians, cyclists, and traffic lights.

Autonomous startup Embark sees a future in which drivers are more like tug boat pilots, waiting at a highway’s exit ramp for self-driving trucks to arrive and driving them into “port”—in this case, a distribution center.

(The company announced this week it’s using semiautonomous vehicles to ship refrigerators between Texas and California, though today there’s always a safety driver inside to monitor the tech.) The trucker doesn't even need to be in the truck: Starsky Robotics—a Silicon Valley startup that employs six full-time truck drivers—would put the driver behind a screen, in a call center-like office.

The company, which today is testing and collecting data on Florida highways, envisions one joystick-equipped driver manually guiding trucks through the trickier bits of operations, though construction zones and the last few miles between an interstate and distribution center, while the computer handles the bulk of the simpler, highway driving tasks.

But yes, trucks that drive themselves are going to need fewer people to drive, and Goldman Sachs economists predict all driving industries could lose up to 300,000 jobs a year to automation.

How do we protect the livelihood of the driver who may be pushed to operate on a 24-hour continual basis because the company is claiming he’s in the back of a cab?” The union, which represents almost 600,000 truck drivers, is also concerned that that lower demand for actual, human workers could mean lower wages overall.

When she took the report to industry meetings and congressional offices, “it wasn’t clear that any of them had done any modeling or forecasting or research about the impact of their disruptive technologies on the labor market before developing their technology,” she says.

“It’s much harder to measure the things that will be created through innovation.” Cars might have killed the buggy whip industry, but they created jobs in the hospitality industry, the oil and gas industry ...