Automation has displaced many traditional jobs across the country and it is now taking aim at the trucking industry. Does this mean the commercial or owner operator truck driver will go the way of the assembly line worker? Fortunately for truckers, their work is more complex than assembly line work, and the effect of autopilots on the airline industry shows that humans will stay in the loop when the safety of the public is affected. This will likely be the case with driverless trucking.
Truckers Do More Than Drive a Truck
Some of these additional activities are:
- Deliveries. Until robots are capable of climbing stairs, moving across rough or slippery surfaces, crossing busy streets, and coping with territorial dogs, a human is needed for this work.
- Inspection and repair. The pre-trip inspection is required for a good reason. Of course, someone can do this before the automated truck starts its trip. However, on long distance rides, sensors alone won’t detect every possible hazard. Someone needs to do periodic checks.
- Freight loading and inspection. A truck driver ensures that freight is loaded properly. Loading dock forklift drivers don’t have the experience or motivation to ensure that the loads in the trailer are balanced and stable. Loading flatbed trailers is especially demanding.
- Navigating congested urban areas. City driving is challenging enough even for the people who regularly do it.
- Coping with the unexpected. Can a driverless truck cope with thick fog, a sudden snow squall, a bridge in danger of getting washed out by flood water, a fallen power line, an unannounced detour, and other disruptions?
Will the Driving Public Completely Trust Their Safety to an Algorithm?
Aircraft automation has reached the point where it can take off from, and land planes on runways. This is not new technology, yet the autopilot isn’t fully trusted with the lives of the plane’s passengers or those of the populace on the ground along flight routes. Human pilots operate the planes on takeoffs, landings, and during other difficult maneuvers. The pilot also oversees the autopilot.
The same will likely occur with driverless trucking. The public will not tolerate many devastating accidents caused by computer glitches. The mistakes of automated machines tend to seem bizarre and outlandish to people. This doesn’t help on the public relations front for this technology. Mistaking the side of a trailer for the sky or getting confused by water spray from passing traffic are just a few examples of this. Driverless cars are encountering legislative resistance in important areas of the country such as California.
The above arguments indicate that automated trucks sharing the road with the driving public without the oversight of a human truck driver is unlikely to occur in the near future.
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