Self-driving technology might still have a way to go, but it’s improving fast. With major manufacturers moving into autonomous vehicles, it’s worth taking a look at the technology and how it might affect haulage companies. |
Where We’re At
The first trials for semi-autonomous trucks on UK roads began in 2017. While that might sound surprising, it’s worth noting that a lot of vehicles are already semi-autonomous. Systems like cruise control, parking assistance and lane departure warnings all qualify.
The difference becomes clearer if we think of these new vehicles as driverless – able to get around without a human operator. In fact, many new designs don’t even leave space for drivers or passengers! Where We’re Going
Manufacturer Einride is leading the way in driverless deliveries, aiming to present its first fleets in Gothenburg and Helsingborg, Sweden, in 2020. Haulage companies will no doubt be watching carefully to see how things shake out. The trucks are all-electric and can carry up to 20 tonnes, making them potential game-changers in the transport industry.
Operations will only be fully automatic on major roads – the more confusing urban and rural environments will be tackled by a human operator, controlling the trucks remotely from a driver station.
Most operators aim to deploy self-driving vehicles in convoys, as this allows them to link up via GPS, radar and wifi behind one leader. Convoying also cuts fuel costs by reducing air resistance.
Companies like Tesla have indicated interest, while Mercedes have released a concept due to be operational by 2025.
Will a Robot Take my Job?
Finally, the big question. Haulage companies and their employees are watching developments closely, waiting to see what effects driverless tech will have on the industry, with some projections less than positive. Goldman Sachs predicts up to 25,000 job losses per month in the United States, while estimates suggest anywhere between one and three million UK truckers could be replaced.
It’s not all doom and gloom though of course and, as with all technological advancements, self-driving vehicles have the potential to create huge numbers of jobs.
Some might include:
• Remote driving • Maintenance • And road and infrastructure building
Some even argue that human operators will still be needed to head up convoys of autonomous vehicles. And this is without even considering the potential for radically new jobs to come from the new technology.
Haulage companies are very unlikely to be considering laying off any of their human workforce in the near future, especially as the UK government aims to stay at the forefront of this new and exciting field. The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) estimates the overall value of autonomous vehicles and systems will be at £51 billion per year by 2030 – more than enough to create new opportunities.
While haulage companies should certainly keep an eye on developments and remain informed, those working in the industry have no reason to be concerned. The technology is still young, and many jobs require a human touch. And as it matures, driverless tech should actually create more and more opportunities.
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides services for matching haulage companies or self-employed drivers with jobs in road transport and haulage work. Over 5,400 member companies are networked together through the Exchange to fill empty capacity, get new clients and form long-lasting business relationships.
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