A Look At The Future Of The U.S. Trucking Industry

A Look At The Future Of The U.S. Trucking Industry

ELDs are just the beginning in a long line of radical changes that will further disrupt the entire industry as we know it.

First, we’ll give you a quick summary of the technologies already commercially available to the industry today.

Then we examine a few of the coming changes, such as self-driving trucks, platooning formations, and mega-corporations’ recent entries into the market.

In a follow-up article next week, we will hypothesize what these changes mean for those working in the transportation industry today.

ELDs, The Harbingers Of Change

The name “electronic logging device” is not nearly descriptive enough to reveal the true nature (and power) lying inside these little black boxes (and mobile apps).

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, ELDs are here to stay, and they bring with them industry-wide impacts.

Impacts such as the way the devices will change the response time on scheduled vehicle maintenance, due to their automated tracking and storage of maintenance history, they can alert users when a scheduled maintenance is due soon.

The devices also contain the potential to alter driving behavior, if fleets (and/or drivers) choose to act upon the valuable vehicle metrics provided by ELDs.

Recorded events such as instances of harsh braking, excessive speeding, and the like will quickly signal to fleet owners which drivers are excelling independently and which are in need of a more heavy-handed guidance.

Drivers that adapt to the data provided by ELDs faster than their counterparts will hold a significant advantage in the playing field, as they rise above the rest with stellar driver profiles free of HOS violations and bad driving behavior.

However, ELDs also bring with them one big problem, and that is their conflict with the current HOS rules.

Many drivers fear that due to the automated nature of ELDs and the 14-hour HOS rule, they may be forced to stop just miles outside of their home, with no other choice.

The full ramifications of electronic logging devices cannot be fully understood until a more significant amount of time has passed after the December 18th deadline.

Perhaps both unforeseen consequences and benefits lie ahead as carriers become accustomed to operating with the devices on a daily basis.

However, it is clear that ELDs will absolutely change the way truck drivers and their managers operate on a day-to-day basis.

The Evolution Of Self-Driving Trucks

Already last year, a self-driving (with a driver in the cab, but solely for monitoring purposes) truck traveled over 120 miles to make its first delivery.

The company behind that operation?

None other than Uber.

Uber’s acquisition of Otto is fueling its self-driving truck efforts, however, it is also the center of a lawsuit by Google’s own self-driving vehicle division, Waymo.

Only time will tell to see how that case ultimately pans out between the two tech giants.

However in spite of this, Uber recently published an article on Medium, detailing its ambitions for the near-future, stating that soon a fleet of driverless Uber semi-trucks will be driving on U.S. highways.

In that post, Uber states that it is not looking to entirely replace the American truck driver.

Its (current) vision is that self-driving trucks will complete the long-haul portion of a trip, while human drivers local “transfer hubs” where the self-driving trucks will switch loads with a truck driver.

Then there’s Einride, a Swedish startup that took this concept a step further by removing the driver and cab from the truck entirely.

Their prototype is a self-driving truck that is controlled by a remote operator or can even drive completely autonomously.

How far off are these automated technologies you may ask?

Not as far off as you may think.

The key benefit to self-driving trucks is that they rarely crash, they don’t sleep, they don’t get sick… you get the idea.

However, that may come at the cost of a few million truck driver jobs…

Truck Platooning Technology Is Closer Than You Think

AKA 3 trucks are better than 1.

Platooning is where digitally connected trucks drive extremely close together in a line formation AKA platoon.

This is achieved through vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology that links the trucks’ braking and acceleration to maintain a fixed distance between the lead truck and the rest of the pack.

The main drive behind truck platooning is improving efficiency, mainly through fuel savings, which are usually the highest cost for a fleet.

These improvements are primarily achieved through the reduced wind resistance experienced due to the tight formation of the trucks.

This year at CES 2017, Peloton Technology demonstrated SAE level 1 radar-based truck platooning technology that is connected to its own cloud operations center.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) designates 6 levels of vehicle autonomy, with level 1 meaning that a driver is in the cab and ready to take control of the vehicle at any time.

SAE level 1 also contains a combination of advanced driver assistive systems (ADAS) such as adaptive cruise control, improving safety by way of reducing driver stress and fatigue.

Other ADAS include forward collision detection and automatic braking, which are said to reduce vehicle-related fatalities by 44% and vehicle-related injuries by 47%, according to a 2013 study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Peloton has claimed that their technology is able to achieve a 7% increase in fuel efficiency.

Peloton’s platooning system is already legal and ready to order in multiple states by the end of this year.

Safety and efficiency are the primary aims of ADAS; sounds eerily familiar, right?

That’s because these are the same points you have probably heard when addressing the positive benefits of ELDs.  So, expect to continue hearing that argument over and over again for the next 10 years.

Big Tech Moves Into The U.S. Trucking Industry

Uber Freight officially launched back in May of this year, with the goal of matching primarily long-haul truckers with carriers that need cargo shipped across the U.S.

The standalone Uber Freight app looks remarkably similar and just as simple as its popular ride-hailing app.

Uber Freight’s mission statement makes it out to be as driver-friendly as possible while operating in the interim between now and a 100% self-driving truck industry future.

However, as mentioned above, Uber is also hard at work at developing self-driving vehicles, so it has a hand in both pots.

Whether Uber Freight is as good-intentioned as it says, or whether the company is just looking to make as much money as possible before human drivers cease to exist, is up to you to decide.

Meanwhile, Amazon has attempted to eliminate the middleman by providing transportation and logistics services itself.

Back in 2015, Amazon rolled out its own trailer fleet and in 2016 received its license to operate as a non-vessel owning common carrier (NVOCC) in the international container shipper market.

In a race to compete with Uber, Amazon has also been developing its own Uber-like app to match truck drivers with shippers that need freight moved.

The app also marks Amazon’s foray into truck brokerage and“middle-mile” operations, by eliminating the third-party broker, who typically charges around 15% commission.

However the company also recently launched Amazon Flex, which is a last-mile service that delivers packages directly to customers.

It’s all but clear that Amazon is looking to bring the entire delivery cycle in-house and become a full-scale logistics company as soon as possible.

All of the above events serve to radically change the entire U.S. trucking industry as we know it.

Technology in this field is on course to develop faster in these next 5 years then it has in the last 50.

However, someone has to stop and think about the ramifications these changes have on those actually working within the industry.

It seems that the question of potential large-scale job loss has been left hanging in the air without a definite answer.

The impact these rapid changes may have on those working in the U.S. trucking industry has been covered in the article “Are We Looking At The Last Generation Of American Truck Drivers?”.



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