The concept of self-driving cars was once fodder for movies about the future. With the advancement in technology, those once unbelievable plotlines are now a reality. From Elon Musk to other innovators, motor vehicles that can operate on their own now exist.
The proverbial smooth road that led to these innovations has yet to exist. The ride has been bumpy. Yet, car manufacturers are undeterred in their desire to automate driving. While cars currently have this technology, large trucks may be next.
A risky solution to a growing problem
Partly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that saw a shortage of truck drivers combined with supply chain problems, shipping companies are teaming with software developers to find a way for a 40-ton truck to operate without operators.
Currently, Uber and FedEx are the most prominent names in the testing of self-driving big rigs. While years away from becoming a reality, many in the technology industry consider it the best long-term solution to get in front of labor and shipping problems. The truck industry is currently short 80,000 drivers to meet demands, a deficit that is expected to increase. The sheer number of truck drivers dropped nearly seven percent to 3.36 million in 2020.
Safety advocates are in vehement opposition to automated 18-wheelers weighing approximately 80,000 pounds traveling the highways and byways without someone behind the wheel. They also cite the current track record of autonomous passenger vehicles. While Tesla is leading the way with their patented AutoPilot, concerns still surround the potential dangers. A probe by U.S. auto safety regulators is already underway while legislation in Congress remains dormant.
Convenience comes at a cost that goes beyond financial. An industry in crisis mode can make hasty decisions that can have catastrophic consequences for drivers sharing the road with trucks that have no one behind the wheel.