According to a March 20 story on bloombergquint.com, autonomous trucks could ultimately replace up to 90 percent of human drivers for long-haul loads, the equivalent of 500,000 jobs. The full Bloomberg story can be accessed at https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/self-driving-trucks-could-replace-90-of-long-haul-jobs.
In fact, the story said, the process has already started, with one San Diego company, TuSimple, removing its human “chaperones on an 80-mile stretch between Phoenix and Tucson in December. TuSimple, the story noted, expects to begin deliveries “in large swaths of the country without human drivers by the end of next year.” The company also said fuel consumption had been reduced by up to 10 percent through the autonomous system.
Bloomberg cited a study out of the University of Michigan that said robotics could eventually replace upwards of 90 percent of human drivers in the domestic long-haul trucking industry, noting that engineers are focusing on long-haul loads via interstates that have “almost no complexity save for a slow curve or an E-ZPass lane.” Such routes, the story said, are some of the “simpler challenges.”
It went on to say that the biggest challenge would likely be infrastructure, noting that the “short trip from a factory or distribution center to an interstate is usually far more complicated than the next several hundred miles.” And, it said, the same holds true when the truck exits the interstate.
Possible solutions include transfer stations at either end of the route, with human drivers handling the first leg of the trip. Autonomous trucks would take the middle portion, and the delivery would be made by a human driver after transferring the load at the route-end station.
Looking at raw numbers, Bloomberg said there are currently approximately 3.3 million truck drivers in the country, but the story noted many do not stay in the industry for an extended time. It also pointed out that long-haul jobs can be among the “lowest-paid gigs.” Long-haul drivers can be on the road some 300 days a year, making around $47,000.
The long-haul workforce, the story said, “tends to turn over entirely every 12 months or so,” and, according to the American Trucking Associations, currently “the industry is short about 61,000 drivers.”The story addressed hurdles such as weather zones and other variables, but it noted that the shortage of truck drivers in the United States is at the point where “American trucking companies are trying to import drivers to ease what has become one of the most acute bottlenecks of the supply chain crisis.” And lobbyists are seeking to lower the minimum age for interstate drivers to 18 from 21.