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