The Daily Update - Autonomous vehicles

According to the American Trucking Associations, the United States trucking industry employs more than 8.5 million people, with nearly 3.5 million being truck drivers. As an indication of how important trucking driving is to US employment, truck driving is the most common job in 29 US states. However, with the advent of automated vehicles, some in the industry are predicting that over the next 20 years many of these drivers could be replaced, leaving vast swathes of blue collar workers looking for jobs. Of course it not just the truck drivers that will suffer with self-driving trucks, with millions of jobs at risk along the thousands of truck stops that line US highways.

This doomsday scenario for truckers may be a step closer with Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration truck becoming the first licensed autonomous commercial truck to operate on a public highway in the US. At the moment, the Daimler truck is a Level 3 autonomous vehicle, meaning it can travel along US highways in its Highway Pilot mode; however it still needs a driver to handle everything else. In September the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed bill that would hasten the use of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking autonomous vehicles; however this measure only applies to vehicles up to 10,000 pounds and not the large commercial trucks at the moment. If car makers can demonstrate that self-driving cars are as safe as those with a driver, the phase-in schedule for the plan allows them to sell 15,000 per manufacturer in the first year and up to 80,000 after three years. From year 4 there is no cap.

Limiting the bill to vehicles up to 10,000 pounds has been seen as a victory for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, whose 1.4-million members include 600,000 truck drivers. James P. Hoffa, head of the union for the past 18 years stated that he was ‘concerned about highway safety. I am concerned about jobs’ adding ‘I am concerned we are moving too fast in a very, very strategic area that we have to make sure we are doing it right because lives are involved’ Hoffa claims the union is not trying to hold back technological advancements claiming ‘Obviously we can’t stop progress’ but added ‘This is not like a widget - a machine that paints the side of a Buick ... Here is a safety issue. This is not the same as the production line at General Motors’ Although, when it comes to safety he may be skating on thin ice, as 94 percent of cars crashed in the US are the result of human error. Bring this figure down and you may dramatically cut the 35,000 annual road deaths that occur.

Of course for car manufacturers the more self-driving cars they have on the road the more data they can collect and enhance the technology even more. Take the aero industry as an example. Only a few short years ago engine maker Rolls Royce and its rivals introduced what is called total care packages, where they could monitor their engines while they worked. When first introduced, information on the performance of the engine was relayed twice on long haul flights, today that information is sent every 2.5 seconds. Once Silicon Valley and the major car producers start using their much deeper pockets to enhance automation within the transport industry, plus the lobbying of government, there may be very little to stop them.