In Early February, San Francisco based tech startup Embark successfully completed a cross-country trip using an automated truck. The test run, which hauled an empty trailer from Los Angeles, CA to Jacksonville, FL, is said to be the first coast-to-coast trip involving an autonomous big rig. It still took the standard 5 day transit time, as there was a driver in the unit ready to take over if the vehicle experienced problems at any time. The goal for Embark, however, is to build upon this technology so that human interaction will not be needed for any of the highway driving – only for the final miles of the delivery as well as local and city driving. Too see their truck at work, watch the video below.
Embark is still probably several years away from their goal of completely driverless trucks. Still, there is much to be learned from their current success. The aforementioned truck used was a modified Peterbilt that was outfitted with sensors and guided by self-driving software. This means that for owner-operators and trucking companies with vehicles already on the road, purchasing entire new fleets may not be necessary to get into the autonomous game. With at least several years to go before reliable driverless trucks will be introduced, this would be one way to stay ahead of the competition in a rapidly changing industry.
The development of autonomous trucks does not mean the end of driving jobs as we know them. In fact, it could mean the opposite. As mentioned earlier, self-driving units currently require someone behind the wheel to monitor the truck and watch for disengagements. This could mean we’ll see a boom in tech-forward thinkers who want to be part of this revolution and experience the open road. Even down the line, with autonomous trucks potentially making cross-country trips in 2 days rather than 5, we will need more final mile and local drivers than ever before. With e-commerce driving the demand for just-in-time delivery, we will see an influx of freight which will in turn drive the demand for these jobs.
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