Self-Driving Trucks Delivering Frigidaire Refrigerators On I-10 from El Paso to Palm Springs

Since October, autonomous trucks have been hauling Frigidaire refrigerators along the I-10 freeway. The trucks were built and operated by the startup Embark.

IF YOU LIVE in Southern California and you’ve ordered one of those fancy new smart refrigerators in the past few weeks, it may have hitched a ride to you on a robotruck.Since early October, autonomous trucks built and operated by the startup Embark have been hauling Frigidaire refrigerators 650 miles along the I-10 freeway, from a warehouse in El Paso, Texas, to a distribution center in Palm Springs, California. A human driver rides in the cab to monitor the computer chauffeur for now, but the ultimate goal of this (auto) pilot program is to dump the fleshbag and let the trucks rumble solo down the highway.“This is the first time someone has demonstrated this end-to-end," Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues says. "It showcases the way that we see self-driving playing into the logistics industry.”They’ve got some good arguments. First off, making a robot that can drive itself on the highway, where trucks spend nearly all their time, is relatively easy. You don’t have to account for pedestrians, cyclists, traffic lights, or other variables. The big rig just has to stay in its lane and keep a safe distance from fellow travelers.In the US, more than 4,000 people die in crashes involving trucks every year, crashes that nearly always result from human error. That’s why the American Trucking Associations has embraced the new tech, recently issuing its first autonomous vehicle policy, calling for uniform federal laws that could help developers and researchers make automated and connected vehicles safer than humans. (The Teamsters are less enthused, and have pushed against the inclusion of commercial vehicles in coming federal legislation.)For now, the Embark milk runs are designed to test logistics as well as the safety of the technology. On each trip, a human driver working for Ryder (a major trucking company and Embark’s partner on this venture) heads over to the Frigidaire lot in El Paso, picks up a load of refrigerators, hauls them to the rest stop right off the highway, and unhitches the trailer. Then, a driver working for Embark hooks that trailer up to the robotruck, cruises onto the interstate, pops it into autonomous mode, and lets it do its thing. The truck mostly sticks to the right lane and always follows the speed limit. Once in Palm Springs, the human pulls off the highway, unhitches the trailer, and passes the load to another Ryder driver, who takes it the last few miles to Frigidaire’s SoCal distribution center.

Hub to Hub Model

Read that last paragraph above closely. It precisely fits my hub-to-hub interstate model that I have talked about for years. Long haul trucking is about to die a sudden death.

The "Under" Line Wins

Reader Mat emailed me earlier today stating "You won the under!".

To verify, I had to check my calendar. A quick check shows I am not Rip Van Winkle waking up in 2040, 2030, or ever 2025. Rather my calendar reads 2017 and self-driving vehicles are on the roads.

For now, there is a backup driver. I suspect that will last about 18 months, but to be safe I will suggest 2021 before truly driverless is common if not the majority.

Nonetheless, the nay-sayers are now so mind-boggling convinced this will not happen, they will likely insist that it won't happen even after the majority of tucks on the roads are self-driven.

I will do a follow-up post soon on how many jobs will die.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Also - this should drive a consolidation in the trucking industry - now that you no longer need drivers - all the independents go away as they no longer can compete on cost of capital - all the small truck dealerships also would go away as now you would have purely fleet sales. Truck stops will get hit too, the new trucks will need fuel, but without drivers, there is no need for restaurants, motels, shower facilities, convenience stores, etc.


Bizbuyer, I don't think trucking companies are going to reap large rewards (profits). I suspect they'll all get squeezed by the Amazons/Walmarts into providing lower trucking costs based on the savings of no drivers. The early adapter companies may make short term gains but long term they'll all end up at the same place (or out of business). Independents will probably be fine. At least those that do short haul (home that day) because that will take longer to automate (mostly city driving) and be less cost effective (because drivers still needed to sign off paperwork on both ends, potentially help load/unload etc.

Goldman Sachs analysts suggest that, due to self-driving trucks, trucking will shed about 300,000 jobs per year starting in about 25 years.

Now if you can only get that decades long recession call right.....


I see even the staunchest Luddites are struggling to summon the will to comment anymore. I certainly have ceased feeling the need to defend self-driving technology. It's as inevitable and imminent as the sunrise.

And as welcome...

I'm amazed with the assumption that we'll have a functioning economy in two years! What if it all goes into the proverbial? That's worth thinking about. Then all of a sudden we'll not get the economies of scale everyone is talking of.

@grumblenose, thanks for the laugh, 25 years! OMFG, you are either trolling or completely delirious. which is it?

I suspect the great fiction of ceteris paribus is at work here. Cheaper crappier 3rd world truckdrivers driving 3rd world built trucks will delay the adoption of these things longer than people think.
Globalisation - ain't it great?