Autonomous trucks are a huge, but initimidating, opportunity. They offer massive monetary savings, as robots need no stops, breaks and have zero distractions. They also are likely to be far more aware and safer drivers than humans by nature. Minimising safety concerns is, again, a massive plus for both trucking and mining companies.
Autonomous trucking is, however, still in its early days, seen by the recent failure of autonomous truck startup Starsky Robotics. Early adopters are often exposed to the major problems of the new industry, and some sink while others swim.
Here’s why autonomous trucking isn’t quite there yet, and how it could be soon.
The problem with autonomous trucks
There’s an ever-underlying issue with autonomous anything. However, the major problem with autonomous trucks can be pinned down to sheer size, weight and power.
If there’s an issue with an autonomous car, it could cause an accident, but at a much smaller scale. If autonomous trucks malfunction, that’s a huge 40-ton vehicle out of control. It’s a much bigger problem than hitting one other car.
Of course, this is a two-sided issue: On one hand, autonomous trucks are, at their core, far safer than ones driven by humans. Robots are generally more aware, don’t face fatigue or need breaks, and aren’t vulnerable to distraction.
Humans, on the other hand, are.
However, humans can make decisions on the fly based on emotional intelligence. Automated trucks, driven by artificial intelligence, simply do not possess the emotional awareness that is necessary for navigating dangerous situations. Automated machines are also vulnerable to technological malfunctions.
Another problem – and a solution
To drive more implementation of autonomous trucks, and to advance them to a point where they are wholly safer and more efficient, there needs to be more early adopters globally in this space. However, as Templeton points out, “Current fleet operators are not early adopters.”
This is because amongst the stress of managing supply chains and already lacking staff, many fleet operators do not have the space or budget to innovate.
Of course, autonomous trucks are not in any state to function entirely independently. Artificial intelligence simply isn’t at that stage and may not be there for a very long time. They still need human supervision. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As long as these trucks need supervision, people can still keep their jobs in the trucking industry, just in a different capacity.
There are ways we can mitigate the risk of autonomous trucking, by collaboration, smarter ways of working and implementing technologies like blockchain for better trackability. However, as with every industry, there must be one company that takes that first step and then succeeds.
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