Like many of you, I’ve been thinking a lot about autonomous trucks, cars, and some of the implications of these rapidly advancing technologies for our industry.
A couple of events over the few weeks have helped me to crystallize my thinking around the autonomous future we’re on the verge of enjoying, exploiting, or exploding. In early January I had the opportunity to chat a bit with Dave Nemo and Robert Braswell on Dave’s Sirius XM® RoadDog Trucking show, and then spent some time with a major fleet that was looking for insight on where Bendix thought things were going. As Dave Nemo asked me: “We keep hearing that 3.4 million truck drivers are going to lose their jobs next week…what’s happening and what’s not happening out there?”
It’s an understatement to say there’s lots of hype and hyperbole in the market today around autonomy.
To Dave’s question, I’m relatively certain we won’t be losing that many jobs quite this soon, but to hear the innovators, venture capitalists, and prognosticators tell it, we’re on the verge of a revolution that’s going to decimate the ranks of drivers very quickly. Revolution, yes, verge of one…doubtful. As to driver decimation…not quite! Don’t get me wrong, we will see innovations that will help drivers coming down the pike over the next 10-20 years, but there’s a lot to consider before we get to the truly autonomous driving future. The one thing this hype can hurt, however, is getting younger folks interested in driving as a career. After all, why start a career that appears to be ending before the mid-life crisis hits?
As I was putting my presentation together for the fleet discussion, I started thinking about all the potential topics that could be covered in a fairly open-ended discussion. Needless to say, the list got pretty long, pretty quickly.
In both cases, a little perspective might go a long way in helping to address the issues and questions that exist in our industry today.
So, with that, here’s my starting list for a series of potential blog posts I’m tentatively going to call “Thoughts on Future Autonomy:”
- Vernacular – What do we mean when we say automated, autonomous, and driverless?
- To Automate or Not to Automate? – It’s not necessarily an easy answer because the implications are both positive and negative.
- Foundations for Automation – Going forward, going backwards, making turns, knowing where you are, who’s around you, and where you’re going. What are the technologies that will drive more autonomous functions in the future?
- Planes, Trains, Trucks, and Drones – What’s the best way to get a package from A to B in an automated future?
- Roadmaps to the Automated Future – It’s not revolution but evolution. And the evolution involves safety systems.
- Regulations – Yes, Virginia, there is still a NHTSA. Today the Feds still have a mandate to keep us safe on the roads. This means that regulation is not dead. Also, how states play can make this easier…or more difficult.
- Vehicle to Vehicle, Vehicle to Infrastructure, Vehicle to People, and Vice Versa – More on connectivity.
- Infrastructure – Sure, vehicles are being designed without consideration of infrastructure, but they won’t reach maximum potential without it.
- Human Resources – Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be truck drivers…or not? People considerations in the automated future. (Guess what, it’s not just drivers…how about your technicians?)
- The Chicken or the Egg – Which is going to lead the way – cars, trucks, or something else?
- Truck Platooning – The approach, the impacts, the evolution, and why this just might make sense.
- Big Data, Deep Learning, and AI – Automated systems have to learn and we have to learn from them.
- Diagnostics, Prognostics, and Your New Technician – Automated systems will mean changes in maintenance – both in how you take care of them and how they take care of themselves.
- Predictions – When will all this happen? The point of view depends on who you talk to and their stake in the game.
- Testing, Testing, and More Testing – Why a technology demonstration is not product commercialization.
- Your Questions and Possible Answers – This can’t be a one-sided conversation – your thoughts are an important part of the discussion and direction of these blogs as we move forward.
So what do you think? Do these topics cover the bases?
For me it’s a starting point and an opportunity to start pulling together the pieces of a constantly changing, fast moving puzzle. Just look at how far we’ve come as an industry in the last 15 years on safety technologies for trucks. Stability control is now mandated and will become standard on 6x4 tractors manufactured on August 1st of this year. Collision mitigations systems do more than just alert the driver; this technology is helping drivers mitigate crash situations on a daily basis. And, of course, we’ve now witnessed an automated beer run, as Otto introduced its driverless technology with a Bud run in Colorado. (Of course, a driver still had to get the truck on and off the freeway!)
As usual, the future will arrive faster than anyone expects, and no one will probably be totally ready for what the real situation will be. Change – besides death and taxes – is the only constant. Much has been happening and much will continue to happen.
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