The Long-Haul Trucking Industry Goes Driverless

While many companies are focusing on creating autonomous cars for the average driver, Otto has taken a new approach.  Otto, a company of former Google, Tesla, and Apple employees, has kept the project quiet until this week’s unveiling.  Otto began with the idea to created safer roadways by enhancing the ability of truck drivers.  While trucks drive 5.6 percent of all miles driven in the U.S. they make up 9.5 percent of all fatalities.  At the same time, the American Trucking Association has been recently dealing with a driver shortage, prompting Otto to change directions.  Unlike other companies like Daimler which have tested fleets of self-driving trucks, Otto has developed sensors to outfit existing trucks.  This strategy decreases the investment required to build entirely new trucks by using the pre-existing capital of transportation.  While the company does not wish to remove humans entirely, the sensors will allow the driver to rest or sleep while the truck continues its journey.  The equipment has been tested on public highways.  Check out the video here.

In light of our discussion at Metalsa yesterday, this news is extremely interested.  Mr. Cosgrove mentioned that even the slightly improvement in weight or efficiency can provide great benefits to the transporter.  This technology could potentially decrease the number of stops required of truck drivers.  Currently, regulations require truck drivers to break 10 hours every 24 hours period to prevent falling asleep at the wheel and other accidents.  With Otto’s new sensors, a driver could potentially drive a long journey straight through while sleeping for periods of time as the truck continues the journey on its own.   The decrease in travel time would not only move goods faster, but also allow the current level of drivers to move more goods.  In this way, Otto is not only solving a problem for trucking companies, but also creating safer roadways.

Source: CNBC

6 comments to The Long-Haul Trucking Industry Goes Driverless

  • hochstadtd18

    This is a great article Lizz and it leaves me with the impression that logistics companies who make the switch to autonomous trucks will be able to reap great profits from this. Outfitting trucks with this technology will be a very capital intensive undertaking, however once they cover all of the fixed costs required to do so, the rest will be almost pure profit for such companies. Not to mention that it will save about 200 or so pounds taken up by the driver him/herself, which according to Mr. Cosgrove, will allow them to ship and extra 200 lbs. worth of goods which is “money in the bank!”

  • manleya18

    David, I really like your point about making more room for extra goods if no driver is present! I heard Mr. Cosgrove say something along those lines but referring to the framework of the truck, but the absence of a person would not only open up the possibility of more weight, but also potentially take away the need for a driver’s cabin at all. Imagine the look of an 18-wheeler totally changing with little or no front cabin at all, and an extended trailer with more room for goods. Within the next 30 years, the look and design of heavy trucks could be exponentially different.

  • adamsm19

    This is a very interesting approach because it is less radical than completely autonomous trucks that eliminate drivers. Otto’s approach will be less capital intensive than creating an entirely new fleet of trucks and will likely be more feasible in the short run. I’ll be interested to see if others in the trucking industry take this approach as well.

  • brewsterw18

    First off, I found the video that you mentioned to be incredibly entertaining and also a great tool for marketing as it illustrated the benefits of driverless cars, which can be seen by the driver working on papers of some sort. Besides the commercial, I think you bring up a great point Lizz when you mention road safety increases since trucks make up about a tenth of fatalities in accidents. I truly believe that if this technology would come through, not only would companies reap economically, but so would those that could be effected by trucks negative externality of causing roadway deaths.

  • Barrett Snyder

    I don’t feel any safer with autonomous trucks on the road compared to what we face now. I think a main reason for the higher percentage in fatalities than miles driven comes down to their weight. Its basic physics that the semi-truck will win when met with a Smart Car or Fiat. As a result, any accident involving an 18-wheeler will statistically have a better chance of generating fatalities. Also it’s a truck drivers job to drive his truck. I feel safer with a guy dependent on driving well to feed his family than anything with sensors and an asleep guy in the back seat. Just my $.02…

  • Sam Wilson

    I think that this would be a great development. While I understand your concern Barrett, I think that this would make for a much safer highway system. With an automated driver in the 18-wheeler you can potentially eliminate accidents due to lane change due to the lack of blindspots from the use of sensors. It would also potentially prevent the tailgating that we all hate when we are driving. This would be prevented by using the sensors in the front of the car to not allow it to get within x feet of the car in front of it. Given the fewer accidents and not having to pay the drivers these cars could make shipping a much easier and cheaper process which could pay dividends to the company and to the customers.

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