The Future of Trucking?

We are hearing more and more talk about self-driving cars and trucks and alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuel use.  Both of these ideas could be moving into the trucking world with the right innovation and implementation.  There are pros and cons to these changes, but if they could make trucking safer and more efficient for drivers and companies then the industry could be closer to thriving.  Learn more in the post below.

How Silicon Valley Could Revolutionize The Trucking Industry

June 22, 2017 | Taylor Ernst

It’s safe to say the trucking industry has been facing massive struggles for at least the past few years. Trucking the most common job in 29 states, and the industry employs about 1.7 million people.

Yet, turmoil is brewing. Thanks to demanding hours and a meager paycheck, turnover rate is above 80 percent. Moreover, though semi trucks drive our economy, they are becoming less and less popular, especially with those who are concerned about the environment.

It takes a lot of energy to pull 80,000 pounds of cargo, and most of the time, that energy comes from gasoline or diesel. In fact, big trucks are responsible for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.

Tech companies have been circling around the trucking industry for years now. They believe they have found the solution to both of these issues: Automation and electrification.

The Benefits of Automation

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, about 433,000 trucks were involved in accidents in 2015. Out of those, about 116,000 people were injured, and more than 4,000 people were killed. When a car is involved in a wreck with a semi truck, it can have devastating consequences. After all, a two ton car stands little chance when it’s up against a 40 ton truck.

There are a variety of reasons why these accidents happen, but more often than not, it comes down to the actions of the driver. Leaving their lane, not driving at proper speeds and rear-ending other vehicles are some of the most common causes of accidents. Yet, at the root of many of these collisions are issues like fatigue, caused by driving too much and not getting enough sleep.

Automated vehicles could change these statistics drastically. Companies like Otto, Tesla and Embark are working on creating trucks that allow drivers to rest more while their vehicles operate themselves. For many tech companies venturing into the trucking industry, the goal isn’t to eliminate drivers altogether, but rather include more autonomous technology to assist drivers.

Exploring Alternative Fuels

In addition to helping make the roads safer, many tech companies are also looking for ways to make the roads greener. Tesla has long been a player in creating powerful batteries for vehicles and other uses. In fact, they released the Powerwall in 2015, a battery to power the home. Now, they are planning to unveil a powerful electric semi truck this fall.

Nikola Motor Company, based in Salt Lake City, is taking a different approach. Rather than creating an electric semi truck, they are developing one that runs on hydrogen. These vehicles go farther and require shorter refuelling times than electric vehicles. However, hydrogen fuel stations are rare. To combat this issue, Nikola plans to build nearly 400 stations across the country by 2019, then release the truck in 2020.

While Nikola has a steep challenge ahead of them, companies planning on using battery power have an even greater mountain to climb. With the weight of fully-loaded trucks, batteries simply aren’t developed enough to make long hauls. Some companies, therefore, are planning to have semi trucks used in cities, but are holding off on nationwide delivery options until the technology improves.

For Peloton, a joint venture of Volvo and UPS, automation has provided a different way to conserve fuel: platooning. When two Peloton vehicles are in the same vicinity and heading in the same direction, they will autonomously follow each other. Thus, there is less braking and accelerating, and wind drag is reduced for the following driver. Peloton claims this method saves at least 7 percent in fuel.

A Realistic Solution?

For both automation and cleaner fuel, the reality of these plans coming to fruition is still many years off. It seems battery technology has a better chance of emerging first, for a couple of reasons. One, batteries are constantly being improved, especially those used in vehicles. Two, even the most advanced automated vehicles are still proving to be pretty dangerous.

Though most automated car accidents are caused by human drivers themselves, the stigma is one that will likely stick for a long time. In fact, the recent superhero movie Logan, set in 2029, featured automated semi trucks that acted dangerously, with little regard to human life or road conditions.

For now, it seems we will still rely on carbon-emitting trucks driven by humans to deliver our goods — and humans make mistakes. If you have been injured in a semi truck accident in San Luis Obispo, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the attorneys at Ernst Law Group today for a free, no-obligation consultation.


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