The transition to autonomous trucking

by Jacob Stark

Spring 2022 3PL Central Supply Chain Scholarship runner up Jacob Stark wrote a brief but compelling essay about advancements in autonomous freight trucking and how it will alleviate supply chain bottlenecks created by labor shortages.

Here is a future visionary in logistics and runner up for the Spring 2022 3PL Central Supply Chain Scholarship Jacob Stark and his essay on self-driving semi-trucks.

A substantial change in the supply chain field is on the horizon and it is coming in the form of transportation technology. The need for this innovation has been heightened by the bottlenecks and labor shortages created during the COVID-19 pandemic. This big change, which is already being developed and tested, is self-driving semi-trucks.

The shortage of truck drivers right now is creating a logistical crisis for multiple companies across the entire supply chain because 71 percent of all freight in the United States is moved by trucking. The solution is not to do away with trucking but to make it more efficient and less vulnerable to labour shortages.

This can be accomplished by switching to self-driving trucks, something many people, including myself, thought would be introduced in the distant future but that is quickly becoming reality.

Read the winning essay on the future of AMRs and robots in warehousing by Michelle Garland.

There are several companies developing self-driving trucks right now and they are being tested by big trucking companies like FedEx. The self-driving trucking company that has partnered with FedEx is currently testing their technology on the road. The trucks are transporting and delivering cargo on a route from Dallas to Houston which is a 500 miles round trip. The trucks being used by FedEx have safety drivers in them for now, but the CEO of the company says that they are projected to not need these safety drivers by 2023. This change in trucking could make it so trucks could run 24/7, eliminating the stops for rest that a truck with a driver would need.

Another self-driving truck company did a test run of their truck to see if they could make a coast-to-coast drive in one go. During this 2800-mile drive they had to switch out safety drivers six times to comply with the safety laws, but completed the route in just under three days.

This is an extremely quick trucking trip, because for truckers to do a traditional 2800-mile drive it would take them five days to complete the journey. This example shows how much more quickly goods could be transported with self-driving technology.

Saving time needed to transport freight is a logistical feat that can translate into a more profitable and reliable supply chain. I believe that self-driving trucks will not only fix the trucking labour shortage but will also be the next big advancement in the supply chain field.