July 7, 2022

Three Ways Autonomous Trucking Could Work

Self-driving vehicles have been a staple of popular science fiction for decades, and now it looks like these self-driving heroes may be closer to reality than ever before. Back in 2016, Otto, an autonomous trucking company, completed its first 120-mile journey, delivering beer from Fort Collins, CO., to Colorado Springs, CO. While the distance was not a great one, it still served as a signifier that self-driving vehicles, or autonomous trucking, are no longer figments of one’s imagination, but a reality.

According to the American Trucking Association, there will be a shortage of nearly 200,000 truck drivers this year alone. With drivers retiring faster than new ones are brought in and seemingly endless challenging work conditions, it’s no wonder the “Great Resignation” is still going strong. Add that to the ongoing supply chain constraints of the last few years and the need for a sustainable solution, like autonomous trucking, is undeniable. And while there are dozens of theories on how this could all unfold, we’ve boiled it down to three possible implementation types.


How that would work:

The idea behind a fully autonomous model is that the truck would run with no human on board, and function with the assistance of a remote human monitor to ensure no issues arise.

With today’s technology, these trucks aren’t as smart as humans, but they do have super senses and don’t need to rest. Though inclement weather conditions still heavily impact an autonomous truck’s accuracy, the most promising ones today work well on clear days while driving on highways, which happens to be the most popular way long-haul trucks function today. Highways offer additional peace of mind since they’re free of pedestrians, cyclists, animals, or children. They also tend to be well-marked and well-maintained.

Pros and Cons of The Fully Autonomous Model:

How it impacts jobs:

It’s pretty obvious that a fully autonomous system would have the largest impact on jobs. As of this writing, there are roughly 3.6 million professional truck drivers in the United States. If you were to replace long-haul truck drivers in the Sunbelt states alone, that would still mean the elimination of roughly 400,000 jobs. Over time, and as technology advances, this could threaten the majority of long-haul trucking jobs out there.

How realistic is it in the next decade?

With safety concerns still challenging autonomous-trucking companies, the likelihood of our entire freight infrastructure being completely replaced by self-driving vehicles in the next decade is low. Though we may see a handful of autonomous trucks on the road in the next few years, it’ll likely take much longer to ensure they are safe enough to navigate crowded city streets as safely as a highway. This is why many believe the Transfer Hub model could work.


How that would work:

This strategy would employ autonomous trucking for highway portions of the journey, while human drivers would be responsible for navigating last-mile portions of the run, like city streets, and larger facilities like warehouses. This would require the implementation of transfer hubs at all major destination areas so that the hand-off between self-driving and human driving can occur.

Pros and Cons of The Transfer Hub Model:

How it impacts jobs: Clearly, this model requires a lot more coordination and would make work more complicated for carriers. In our current system, carriers already have a lot to do moving a load from point A to point B. With the transfer hub model, they would need to hire three more drivers, creating more liability and the need for additional approvals. Drivers would also suffer as their routes would be shorter, making their schedules more complicated and even harder to plan around. In this case, any semblance of predictability flies right out the window.

How realistic is it in the next decade?

Just the effort needed to build and outfit transfer hubs all over the country is an unrealistic feat, and trying to make it work with the existing framework would be more trouble than it’s worth. While the technology in autonomous trucks available today could be ready for this model, everything else it entails is a shot in the dark, which is why a hybrid of sorts seems to be the more tenable option.


How that would work:

The autonomous hybrid model seems to be the more achievable option of the three, operating very similarly to how an airplane’s autopilot system works. The autonomous truck would always have a human driver inside, and they would switch between fully autonomous driving, and the driver taking the wheel. The truck would cover all highway driving, and the human driver would take over if any issues arose, or for any portions of the journey that are more complex, like in urban areas or navigating warehouse facilities.

Pros and Cons of The Autonomous Hybrid Model:

How it impacts jobs:

This model may very well be the answer we’re looking for to address the driver shortage. With the dwindling number of drivers we’re seeing daily, a solution needs to be devised to not only retain our drivers but also recruit new ones. With this model, we’d only need one driver per truck for long-haul routes, significantly increasing the number of drivers available. And the perks of driving for fewer hours and having a more predictable schedule could entice more people to get behind the wheel.

How realistic is it in the next decade?

Very. All of the cons presented in the previous two models are eliminated with the autonomous hybrid approach. A human will be on board for complicated urban driving or inclement weather, eliminating the risk associated with self-driving trucks. And seeing as the infrastructure doesn’t need to be changed, it would only be a matter of getting trucks on the road and drivers trained to use its technology.


One thing is for certain, while autonomous trucking has the potential to help with the driver shortage, it doesn’t address the freight industry’s biggest challenge: empty miles. That’s where SemiCab comes in. As North America’s only Collaborative Transportation Platform, SemiCab has the technology needed to bridge the gap between shippers and carriers to build more efficient routes.

To orchestrate collaboration across shippers and carriers, we use real-time data from EDI and API integrations with TMS partners. By combining that data and using AI/ML predictions and advanced optimization models, our platform builds fully loaded round trips that strip out empty miles from the supply chain and create a more efficient network. For more details on how it all works, to join our network, or to schedule a demo, reach out!


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