What is the Potential Impact of ‘Smart Trucks’ Within the Trucking Industry?

I’m happy to introduce Justin Fox, a graduate from the University of Kent, who is my next guest blogger. Casting an eye to the future, Justin has identified automation as one of the primary issues set to dominate international affairs, , as human workers are made increasingly obsolete. He is currently looking to raise awareness of this issue, so as to encourage a debate about the future direction our workforce as a whole may take.

In all fields of employment, automation has fundamentally changed the nature of how business is done. Tasks that once took hours now take seconds, objects that required teams of people assembling them can be done by robotic arms and now, smart self-driving trucks have been labelled as the future of logistics and heavy goods vehicle (HGV) travel.

In theory such an intelligent programme would be revolutionary for truck fleets around the world, and it comes as no surprise that research funding for such development has not been hard to come by. In Singapore for example in a major piece of trucking news, it was announced that due to concerns about a shortage of drivers, the city-state’s transport authority has turned to the Swedish firm Scania to provide a fleet of self-driving trucks to facilitate the movement of shipping containers within the local ports.

Yet whilst they would arguably make for an efficient form of delivery service, this is only in theory. Smart trucks may be more superficially intelligent than human drivers at reading conditions, but they lack a real person’s ability to improvise to unforeseen circumstances. Much of motorway driving in particular revolves around keeping an eye on the vehicles around you, so whilst the trucks may not cause an issue, how well can they instantly react to someone else’s mistake?

Furthermore, what happens in the event of a technical malfunction? Whilst it’s guaranteed that the quality of each truck will undoubtedly be high and that they will be regularly maintained, no software works perfectly 100% of the time-especially on such a large scale as this.

Other concerns have also been expressed over the threat of hacking, by those who would want to take control of a truck and its contents. The motivations for this range from mischievous to sinister, and could present a very real security risk. Research undertaken by IT consultants found that 1 in 10 people within England and Wales have already been the attempted targets of cybercrime, which is rapidly growing as a major threat thanks to the increasing interconnectivity provided by modern technology.

Therefore as things currently stand there are still many issues which would make smart trucks unfit for replacing human drivers. Not only is there the economic aspect to consider which would put millions out of work, but the potential risks are greater than those posed by a real person in control. Whilst humans are more prone to errors and causing crashes, once they’ve come to a halt that tends to be the end of the incident. In contrast, an automated truck may mistakenly try to push onto its destination, unaware of the tremendous danger it is putting other road users in. Being exclusively controlled via data opens up a door to all manner of rogue threats, and the sheer volume of trucks on the roads would make guarding all of them 24/7 a colossal task.

Do others agree?

About Lauren Isaac

Lauren Isaac is the Director of Business Initiatives for the North American operation of EasyMile. Easymile provides electric, driverless shuttles that are designed to cover short distances in multi-use environments. Prior to working at EasyMile, Lauren worked at WSP where she was involved in various projects involving advanced technologies that can improve mobility in cities. Lauren wrote a guide titled “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” regarding how local and regional governments should respond to autonomous vehicles in the short, medium, and long term. In addition, Lauren maintains the blog, “Driving Towards Driverless”, and has presented on this topic at more than 75 industry conferences. She recently did a TEDx Talk, and has been published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune among other publications.
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One Response to What is the Potential Impact of ‘Smart Trucks’ Within the Trucking Industry?

  1. Blair Schlecter says:

    Good points! I’ve been thinking about how autonomous vehicles would handle situations that call for improvisation, such as having to turn around due a flood, avoiding a large crowd or some other unforeseen event. I think these skills will need to be mastered before such vehicles can operate anywhere and everywhere

    Like

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