Overdrive Magazine

October 2019

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24 | Overdrive | October 2019 Partners in Business tip: DRIVING HABITS AND TIRE LIFE The Partners in Business program, produced by Overdrive and financial services provider ATBS, is sponsored by TBS Financial Services. Hard braking, rapid acceleration, curbing and tight turns cause tires to wear faster, often in an uneven way. If you notice shimmying or repetitive bumping, inspect your tires. Even absent those symptoms, look for irregular tread wear in your daily inspections. Speaking last month at the FTR Transportation Conference in Indianapolis, representatives from three autonomous truck developers sought to quell fears about their tech- nology displacing drivers' jobs. Instead, they offered a rosy out- look and predicted a future in which autonomous trucks don't displace drivers but alter the job to boost home time, reduce the grind of spending hours behind the wheel and increase the industry's efficiency. "In our model, we're actually mak- ing truck drivers' jobs more valuable and more rewarding," said Morgan Brewster, head of strategy for Ike Robotics. Ike this year landed $54 million in seed funding for its auton- omous retrofit system. Brewster foresees the driving job as shifting "from the really hard over-the-road long-haul segment and [moving] those jobs to home-daily jobs." Starsky Robotics views automation as a career progression for the driv- ing job, not a displacement, said Paul Schlegel, senior vice president. This year Starsky ran an unmanned 9-mile test in Florida with a remote driver monitoring the driverless rig. Schlegel said Starsky operates as a roughly 50-truck motor carrier and employs 45 drivers hauling freight daily. His company envisions drivers' jobs as a hybrid role, spending short stints behind the wheel but with much of their work performed at a remote monitoring location. "Our vision is that the job of the truck driver is they go into an office that would be much like an air traffic control center," Schlegel said. Drivers would physically drive the truck from a pickup location to the highway, then let the truck drive itself during the on-highway segment while the driver monitors the vehicle from the control center. TuSimple partnered with Pima Community College in Arizona to offer an autonomous driving certifi- cation program. "These will be highly automated, highly technical vehicles," said Jay Lau, director of transportation for TuSimple. "They will need the exper- tise" of a driver trained to operate and monitor them, he said. Like Starsky, TuSimple operates as a motor carrier. "We're out there every day running freight like any other trucking company," Lau said. As automated trucks are deployed, drivers still will perform tasks that the truck cannot, the panelists said, such as interfacing with shippers and receivers, urban driving and completing inspection-type tasks. All three panelists foresee a slow rollout of autonomous trucks, with deployment initially focused on cer- tain lanes and geographies that lend themselves to such technology. As automated vehicles "receive accep- tance over the next decade, you'll begin to see [them] with more regu- larity," said Lau. "That fear of that phantom, that [autonomous trucks] will be arriving on a highway near you," isn't a reality, he said — at least not in the near term. Lau also cited the equipment turn- over cycle as keeping any autono- mous rollout restrained. "You can't rush this technology," said Brewster. Schlegel said autonomous vehicles are already in use and in testing, so "it's not a question of when will autonomous vehicles be here," he said. "They're here. We're doing it now. The question is, 'When will autonomous vehicles disrupt the industry?' That disruption is going to come in small chunks. It may disrupt in one lane from Dallas to Houston soon. But it may be years before the entire industry has a feel of 'Wow, this has been a huge disrupter.' " AUTONOMOUS DEVELOPERS: DON'T FEAR THE REAPER Morgan Brewster of autonomous developer Ike Robotics said his company envisions drivers piloting trucks to the highway from a terminal or shipping/ receiving facility, then deploying the truck to operate autonomously. This would allow the driver "to come home every night to family and friends." BY JAMES JAILLET

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