Many trucks on the freeway already drive themselves -with an operator on board. These trucks operate smoothly and safely with little to no human intervention. Such vehicles are capable of knowing when to make space and move over when another vehicle is trying to merge and slowing down when they see a vehicle pulled over on the side of the road. These automated trucks are very capable drivers. So, shouldn’t we put more of these autonomous big rigs on the road? Yes.
Right now, there is a shortage of some 80,000 truck drivers in the U.S.; it is estimated that there will be a shortage of about 160,000 by the end of the decade. This is a piece of the problem in the supply chain issues we’ve all been experiencing. Furthermore, a business can save money by using these autonomous vehicles and increase safety (e.g., an autonomous truck won’t fall asleep at the wheel or try to go under a bridge with too low of a clearance). Also, unlike city streets, freeways are all fairly similar. For example, a freeway in Massachusetts and a freeway in Minnesota look basically the same. However, an intersection in San Francisco would be more of a challenge to program for and navigate, because of the numerous variables involved in the autonomous vehicle’s calculations. We’ll see how many autonomous big rigs hit our freeways in the near future if the industry can save money and increase safety as promised by this technology.