There will always be a debate on the improvement technology has on society. I am seasoned enough to remember a life before cell phones and the internet. While you can get items faster and more done with less time, are we really better off? A demand for it “now” combined with the stress that “now” creates has not made us better human beings. The current generation are becoming shut-ins and are losing the ability to have human interaction such as a basic conversations, read a book, or perform actual hand written communications in the name of progress. Question is – what are we progressing to?
Unless you have been under a rock, you should recognize the above as Optimus Prime from the Transformers movie franchise. I use it as a silly illustration of what the future could hold for the trucking industry.
Why Should I Care?
For most of America, they are either oblivious to what trucking does or so damn hung up on sharing the road with trucks that no one stops to think of the value or need trucking does for the US. Let’s keep it simple – do you like to eat? My guess is that you do and unless you are a farmer, you go to the store to get groceries. Same thing with fuel. I assume you like driving whatever you drive and pulling into a gas station to fill up is a reflex action now. It does not occur to most people that the groceries and gas don’t just appear magically. Truckers bring all of those goods (plus everything else you buy) to those shopping destinations. Remember that next time you cut off an 18 wheeler…
The Human Haters
Generation Shut In does not like human interaction or humans for that matter. The creative ones that have been able to bring human-less technology into the world are not doing it to make your life better or easier – they are doing it to get people hooked on the tech to the point they never want to leave their home and make them loads of moola. Why the hell would you buy clothes from Amazon when you can go to a store and get it right there? All of the artificial intelligence and robotics coming into society are designed to replace humans – not augment them. Generation Shut In is still living with mommy & daddy (cause they don’t want to work) and being trained for this autonomous life. What do you think happens when the folks croak and junior has no people or jobs skills? Oh – that’s a political discussion on the enslavement of the free for another day.
There is a push from several stakeholders to roll out self-driving semi trucks as soon as possible. These groups include
- Tech companies poised to rake in the dough
- Large trucking firms who don’t want to pay drivers
- Idiotic consumer groups that think these trucks will be safer
- Lawyers – hey they know a cash cow when the see it in Strict Liability
- Politicians on powerful committees looking to get their pockets lined from the above to stay elected
The story is trucks can be adapted into the US faster than cars because they can make money, therefore getting a faster ROI. Long haul stretches where there is “no needed human interference.” Hold that thought, I will come back to it.
But hold on Homer – the auto-bus has not left the station just yet. Now, there are tests being conducted around the nation using semi-autonomous trucks. It’s is what is called Level II – braking, acceleration, and steering where these function can be automated. A human must still be in the unit in case it hits the fan. Personally, I see this level of automation on all semi trucks very soon and drivers and companies can benefit from this.
Level IV is where Optimus Prime is here to stay. Go away stupid human – we don’t want or need you.There are companies in the EU playing with this. Even some US tech companies playing with Level IV in tests. I think that they should have had a chat with the companies making Level II autonomous cars and the 5 billion dollar rabbit hole and see how much fun that has been and its current status.
Obstacles to Autonomous Semi Trucks
So let’s have this brawl now, while the industry can be saved and people still can have jobs. Here are a few hurdles:
- There is no insurance for autonomous. I mean not one damn drop. What that means is whomever produces these rigs is self insuring any form of loss. So, whether its the physical truck maker, the software that controls the rig, or any of the hundreds of components on a truck – they bear the costs for any and all claims. It’s called Strict Liability and NONE of the companies out there are prepared. As suckhole as insurance is, the billions it pays in claims keeps the USA rolling. Don’t tell me these units won’t have wrecks on interstates. Werner was hit with 90 million on a verdict where they did nada wrong! Think Daimler-Benz is prepared to cough up hundreds of millions of dollars every time their truck crashes? Doubtful. The software companies seeing dollar signs now will be bankrupt from lawsuits in less than 3 years into roll-out if it occurred to today.
- There is no interest from the current manufacturers for Level IV. The truck manufacturers already are nervous rolling out Level II. They understand what Strict Liability means and want no part of that. How do I know – well I have talked with several reps. Now, that does not mean they will not perform research & development in anticipation of a potential change in laws.
- Infrastructure. While tests are being conducted on higher levels of automation, no one will admit the US infrastructure is ready for this technology. Lots of work and loads of money have to be spent to make this work everywhere. Even the interstates are going to require investment to go more than just testing.
- Security Issues with software. When the FMSCA rolled out the electronic log device mandate (ELD), you know the process was never thought through. The devices can and have been hacked. A fully autonomous rig will be a target for hackers seeing what fun they can have with the unit. Trucks weigh 80000 pounds PLUS their cargo. Do you really want that to become a weapon of mass destruction?
- Legislation. Now I know I called the politicians out as green lighting the research. However, there is a difference in R&D and giving the go ahead to wipe out an entire sector of workers. Workers will lose jobs and support chains for them will lose jobs. I can see a massive force of people with pitchforks and torches coming after DC if they really pull the trigger on this without much thought. Think about it – how often do politicians pass a bill and not think the damn thing through? Politicians like getting elected and people vote and robots do not. At least for now.
- People. This one above all else is the real determining factor. Does the everyday populace really want 80000 pound driverless weapons rolling around? Are truck drivers going to just roll over and play dead on this issue? Are the American Tax Payers really going to foot the massive cost for an infrastructure that seeks to replace their human condition?
Now, I am in no way naive to think that this train is not coming sooner than later. However, I also know that all of the automation roll outs for trucks has not been thought all of the way through in how it will negatively impact humans. All tech people do is spin is their opinion on positive impacts they believe will occur. I have yet to hear a cost/benefit analysis of any type from these groups.
What I have listed scratches the surface. Who is responsible for the jobs lost if this actually happens? Who pays to re-train an entire sector? Is re-training even realistic? Is automation a subversive plot to enslave civilization? OK, maybe that was too dramatic….
Or was it?
Are you ready for Robo Truck?