What’s the biggest fear among truck drivers in a day and age in which we are pursuing autonomous trucking? That they will no longer have a job just a few years from now. Such fears are wildly overblown due to a misunderstanding of the current state of autonomous driving and the pace at which technology is advancing. So it’s nice to hear stories that have the opposite effect.
One such story is that of Uber creating jobs by implementing an autonomous trucking program. No jobs have been added as yet, but the ride-sharing pioneer says it’s only a matter of time before their transfer hub model does just that. If the future they predict comes to fruition, there could be plenty of truck driving jobs in the future that are more in line with today’s technology-based mindset.
Uber’s Transfer Hub Model
Uber is still many years away from putting autonomous trucks capable of traveling from coast-to-coast on the road. But the things they are currently doing in Arizona are still fairly impressive. Uber is now using autonomous trucks to deliver freight in the Grand Canyon State using a model that combines traditional over-the-road (OTR) trucking with regional and local freight transport.
Freight arrives at an Uber hub on a truck being driven by a typical OTR truck driver. That freight is then unloaded, reloaded according to destination, and sent back out on autonomous trucks. However, the autonomous trucks do not operate fully independent of human drivers. Each truck has a human driver to get it on to the highway and then to finish the last few miles. Human drivers are also at the ready to take over should automated systems fail.
Uber explains that we are still a long way off from the kind of technology that would allow dock-to-dock autonomous operation. Thus, truck drivers are still needed to get trucks from the loading dock to the open highway. They must navigate city streets, congested traffic, and the like before finding the open space of the highway that makes autonomous trucking possible.
Drivers are also necessary for getting trucks off the highway and to their eventual destinations. Again, this involves everything from navigating urban traffic to backing into a loading dock.
Truck Driving Jobs Will Change
Unlike Uber, Utah-based C.R. England still employs more than 6,000 traditionally trained truck drivers to move freight from coast-to-coast. Those truck drivers are fully trained in all aspects of OTR, regional, and local freight transport. But will the jobs held by those truckers still be the same 10 years from now? It is not looking that way.
While there is little to fear about truck drivers losing their jobs, it is completely reasonable to say that what truck drivers do today is not what they will be doing in a decade. Rather than being fully responsible for all the manual tasks of driving, truckers will be more like technology managers. They will be managing on-board systems built into trucks that effectively drive themselves.
In light of this, the pursuit of autonomous trucking could end up being a very good thing for companies like C.R. England. Think of it this way: it is getting tougher and tougher to recruit young people to become truck drivers when they have such a technology-centric mindset. Your average young person wants a career in technology. Autonomous trucking may give them just that.
It’s looking like autonomous trucking will not only fail to negatively impact truck driving jobs, but it could also create new jobs in the future. Technology has a way of doing that.