During the month of March, a self-driving eighteen-wheeler transported cargo between the cities of Dallas and Atlanta for more than five consecutive days. It operated nonstop for 24 hours, covering a total distance of almost 6,300 miles, completing four full circuits, and transporting eight separate loads of cargo.
This five-day voyage, which proved the huge potential of autonomous trucks, was the product of a cooperation between Kodiak Robotics, a start-up that specialises in autonomous driving, and U.S. Xpress, a conventional trucking firm. It would take longer than ten days for the same cargo to be delivered with a conventional truck since the vehicle’s lone driver has to stop and relax each day.
However, the test also demonstrated that the technology is not yet developed enough to fully exploit its potential. To ensure that someone was always present in the truck’s driver’s seat in the event that anything went wrong, Kodiak cycled its crew of professionals in and out of the cab on a daily basis. These so-called “safety drivers” took control of the vehicle on many occasions.
Companies like as Kodiak are aware that the technology has a long way to go before it would be possible for trucks to drive themselves anyplace. Therefore, they are trying to find methods to deploy self-driving trucks just on highways since the broad lengths of highway that are devoid of traffic are simpler to handle than the congested city streets that are riddled with stop-and-go traffic.
A portion of the difficulty is technical in nature. Even though self-driving trucks are capable of handling the majority of the events that take place on a highway (such as merging into traffic from an on-ramp, changing lanes, and slowing down for cars stopped on the shoulder), companies are still working to ensure that they can respond to less common situations, such as an unexpected pileup of three cars.
Kodiak’s truck did not enter either Dallas or Atlanta as it was transporting products back and forth between the two cities. Before beginning the journey back, it stopped at a few locations not far from the highway so that it could refuel and dump its goods. The shipment was then transferred to conventional vehicles, which completed what is known as “the last mile” of the delivery.
The construction of a network of “transfer hubs” is the first step that businesses need to take in order to deploy driverless vehicles on a massive scale. Kodiak recently signed a collaboration agreement with Pilot, a firm that runs conventional truck stops around the nation, with an eye toward this future. Kodiak is a leader in the truck stop industry. These locations are now used to provide truck workers with a spot to take a shower, relax, and eat their meals. It is hoped that they will also be able to function as hubs for autonomous vehicles to convey cargo.
It is not a simple task to construct and implement vehicles that drive themselves. In addition to this, the cost is astronomically high – on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Following the disclosure by federal authorities that one of TuSimple’s self-driving trucks had been involved in an accident, the business has been forced to address concerns raised about the safety of the underlying technology. According to a story from Bloomberg News, the self-driving technology firm Aurora, which has a particularly strong pedigree, is struggling in the face of adverse market circumstances and has reportedly brought up the idea of a sale to large companies like as Apple or Microsoft.
Some of the answers will be logistical, while others will be technological. The new company Embark intends to construct a mobile workforce of “guardians” who will be responsible for locating vehicles in the event that anything goes wrong and initiating repairs as required.
The fact that this technology will also result in the creation of new employment is a positive development for the economy as a whole. Even though analysts predict that eventually fewer employment will be created than will be destroyed, this transition won’t take place anytime soon. Long-haul truck drivers will have years to be ready for a new life if their jobs are eliminated. Any deployment will take place in stages.