Why Robots Will Find It Hard To Push Truckers Out Of The Cab

A container is transported by an automated guided vehicle (AGV) during the testing phase of the Long Beach Container Terminal in Middle Harbor at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, California, U.S., on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. Next year, deckhands on ships docked at Middle Harbor on California’s San Pedro Bay won’t see many people on the wharf. Remote-controlled cranes towering 165 feet overhead will pluck containers from vessels’ holds, and driverless trucks guided by magnets embedded in the asphalt will carry cargo to robotic hoists in a sorting yard. Photographer: Tim Rue/Bloomberg

Automation and income inequality go well together so long as you want more of both. Although some experts say that "highly creative" such as "artists, musicians, computer programmers, architects, [and] advertising specialists" have a natural resistance, even many professionals and white collar workers are vulnerable to replacement.

But blue-collar workers could be among the hardest hit. One of the target categories, according to many, is truck driving., as it is "all but obsolete."

The glass-half-full theory is that workers could transition to better-paying and more fulfilling jobs. But that’s an old premise, floated for generations as machines increasingly replaced people. The displaced workers never get the training as companies don’t want to waste any of the money they’ve recouped by cost cuts and politicians have yet to have a big effective impact on the problem. Had they, the political atmosphere in the U.S. would be entirely different.

Despite all the dire warnings, and although drivers will be replaced, the future is far brighter than critics — and I’ve been one — have thought. Earlier this year I reflected on my own experiences in the industry (in my youth I drove a truck and delivered furniture for some years) and spoke with experts. Although self-driving trucks are under development and have been tested, like the one an Uber division sent on a 120-mile beer run in Colorado, a number of factors make fully automated trucks difficult to implement.

Trucking is more than driving

Truckers are responsible for reviewing and packing loads, documenting conditions of contents, guarding against theft, and much more. They regularly check trucks for problems, listen for telltale sounds of failure, and pump fuel.

The latter may sound ridiculous, but truck stops aren’t about to add personnel 24 hours a day to fuel vehicles and automating the process would mean technical standards and modified equipment at every pumping station. Good luck waiting for that to happen.

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A container is transported by an automated guided vehicle (AGV) during the testing phase of the Long Beach Container Terminal in Middle Harbor at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, California, U.S., on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. Next year, deckhands on ships docked at Middle Harbor on California’s San Pedro Bay won’t see many people on the wharf. Remote-controlled cranes towering 165 feet overhead will pluck containers from vessels’ holds, and driverless trucks guided by magnets embedded in the asphalt will carry cargo to robotic hoists in a sorting yard. Photographer: Tim Rue/Bloomberg

Automation and income inequality go well together so long as you want more of both. Although some experts say that “highly creative” such as “artists, musicians, computer programmers, architects, [and] advertising specialists” have a natural resistance, even many professionals and white collar workers are vulnerable to replacement.

But blue-collar workers could be among the hardest hit. One of the target categories, according to many, is truck driving., as it is “all but obsolete.”

The glass-half-full theory is that workers could transition to better-paying and more fulfilling jobs. But that’s an old premise, floated for generations as machines increasingly replaced people. The displaced workers never get the training as companies don’t want to waste any of the money they’ve recouped by cost cuts and politicians have yet to have a big effective impact on the problem. Had they, the political atmosphere in the U.S. would be entirely different.

Despite all the dire warnings, and although drivers will be replaced, the future is far brighter than critics — and I’ve been one — have thought. Earlier this year I reflected on my own experiences in the industry (in my youth I drove a truck and delivered furniture for some years) and spoke with experts. Although self-driving trucks are under development and have been tested, like the one an Uber division sent on a 120-mile beer run in Colorado, a number of factors make fully automated trucks difficult to implement.

Trucking is more than driving

Truckers are responsible for reviewing and packing loads, documenting conditions of contents, guarding against theft, and much more. They regularly check trucks for problems, listen for telltale sounds of failure, and pump fuel.

The latter may sound ridiculous, but truck stops aren’t about to add personnel 24 hours a day to fuel vehicles and automating the process would mean technical standards and modified equipment at every pumping station. Good luck waiting for that to happen.

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