Autonomous trucks: drivers remain, for lower-paid tasks

Image: Most likely automation scenario, absent policy intervention.

University of Pennsylvania sociologist Steve Viscelli has conducted a thorough study into driverless trucks and has just released his final report Driverless? Autonomous Trucks and the Future of the American Trucker.
The study was conducted on behalf of the Centre for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley, and Working Partnerships USA, and questioned whether autonomous trucks will mean the end of the road for truck drivers. His findings are summarised below.
Will autonomous trucks mean the end of the road for truck drivers? The USD 740-billion-a-year US trucking industry is widely expected to be an early adopter of self-driving technology, with numerous tech companies and major truck makers racing to build autonomous trucks. This trend has led to dozens of reports and news articles suggesting that automation could effectively eliminate the truck-driving profession.
By forecasting and assessing multiple scenarios for how self-driving trucks could actually be adopted, this report projects that the real story will be more nuanced but no less concerning.
Autonomous trucks could replace as many as 294,000 long-distance drivers in the US, including some of the best jobs in the industry. Many other freight-moving jobs will be created in their place, perhaps even more than will be lost, but these new jobs will be local driving and last-mile delivery jobs that — absent proactive public policy — will likely be misclassified independent contractors and have lower wages and poor working conditions.
Throughout this transformation, public policy will play a fundamental role in determining whether we have a safe, efficient trucking sector with good jobs or whether automation will exacerbate the problems that already pervade some segments of the industry. Trucking is an extremely competitive sector in which workers often end up absorbing the costs of transitions and inefficiencies. Strong policy leadership is needed to ensure that the benefits of innovation in the industry are shared broadly between technology companies, trucking companies, drivers, and communities.
The findings are based on in-depth industry research and extensive interviews with the full range of stakeholders: computer scientists and engineers, Silicon Valley tech companies, venture capitalists, trucking manufacturers, trucking firms, truck drivers, labour advocates and unions, academic experts, and others.
How many will go – 294,000 or 2.1 million?
Prior studies and news stories have suggested that nearly all of the roughly 2.1 million heavy-duty truck drivers in the United States could lose their jobs to automation. However, that number includes many industry segments that are unlikely to be automated in the near future, such as local pickup and delivery and carriers using specialised equipment. This report finds that the jobs most at risk of displacement are long-distance driving jobs with few specialised tasks, representing about 294,000 drivers.
What is likely to happen?
This study is based on an analysis of six potential scenarios for how self-driving technology could be used in the trucking industry. The scenarios are the result of interviews with engineers, developers, trucking firms, and drivers, along with reviews of industry trade literature.
Human–human platooning. A series of human-driven trucks would be electronically linked, with the lead truck controlling speed and braking in the following truck(s). This approach would let the trucks travel much closer together on the highway, improving aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. Each truck would still have a human driver to maintain the lane and navigate local streets.
Human–drone platooning. Similar to the human–human platoon, except that a single human driver would lead a platoon of autonomous drone trucks on the highway. The human driver would be available to operate the lead truck, manage unexpected situations, or make repairs and ensure safety if a truck broke down mid-route. As in the exit-to-exit scenario below, local drivers would bring loads to an autonomous truck port (ATP) near the highway, where they would swap trailers with the drone trucks for the highway platoon.
Highway automation + drone operation. Human operators would remotely control trucks on local streets and in complicated situations, and then trucks would drive autonomously on the highway. This approach would rely on highly trained dock staff to handle tasks currently performed by drivers, such as inspection and coupling.
Autopilot. Similar to autopilot in airplanes, a human would handle loading and local driving, then sleep in the back of the truck while the computer drove on the highway.
Highway exit-to-exit automation. Human drivers would take care of non-driving tasks and navigate complicated local streets, then swap trailers with self-driving trucks at an ATP next to the highway. The autonomous truck would handle the long-distance freeway driving, then hand off the load at an ATP near the destination.
Facility-to-facility automation. In situations where warehouses and shipping facilities are located near major interstates, autonomous trucks may be able to handle industrial roads (where there are few pedestrians and complex intersections) and drive directly from origin to destination.
Absent significant changes in the policy or economic context, this report concludes that highway exit-to-exit automation is the most likely scenario to be widely adopted in the future. However, human-led platoons represent a model that has fewer technological challenges, a strong economic case, and better jobs for long-distance drivers.
 

Giving way to the wealthy – and will freight fit in?

Autonomous vehicles could see privileged road access for those prepared to pay a premium, said Monash University ethicists Professor Robert Sparrow and Dr Mark Howard.
Online auctions could determine who gets through an intersection first and faster routes reserved for higher-paying customers, Professor Sparrow said.
Autonomous vehicles offer an opportunity to apply free market principles and create a ‘market in mobility’ by pricing road access for more efficient use of an increasingly scarce resource.
But increased efficiency could come at significant social, ethical and political cost, he warned.
An equal place where all users have the same rights and subject to the same laws – no matter what type of car they drive –  could become a place where the wealthy can buy their right of way.
“The logic of the free market, when unleashed on urban transport, points firmly to pricing journey times — and therefore access to space on the roads — in accordance with the ability to pay,” Prof Sparrow said.
“The cars of those who paid lower prices could be made to slow down and move aside in order to allow the cars of those who had paid higher prices to pass them, making the mobility privileges purchased by the wealthy all-too-obvious to the poor.”
In feudal times ‘commoners’ were often expected, or forced by law, to make way for the nobility on roads.
In the future, algorithms will replace expectations of ‘giving way to the wealthy’ with technology determining traffic flows that provide a daily reminder of someone’s place in society.
The prospect of a ‘market in mobility’ would also lead to roads being private, rather than public space, effectively controlled by a small number of companies operating fleets of vehicles.
“It would also result in private corporations controlling access to a good — mobility — that is itself essential to social and political participation, entrenching the divide between rich and poor.
“It’s something governments and policymakers need to carefully consider in their quest for more efficient road networks.”
 

Autonomous and electric: here next year

ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider and Dr Günther Schuh, founder and CEO of e.GO Mobile AG based in Aachen, have announced that series production will begin in Aachen in 2019.
The e.Go Moove GmbH joint venture partners manufacture people and cargo movers primarily for the urban mobility needs of the future. Five-digit volumes are initially scheduled for annual production and ZF is expecting that the demand for these vehicles will reach approximately one million in the next five to seven years.
The company is equipping the e.Go Mover with electric drive systems, steering systems and brakes as well as ZF’s ProAI central computer (using artificial intelligence) and sensors which enable automated driving functions.
“System providers like ZF can significantly benefit from the worldwide trend toward automated driving and electromobility,” said ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider during the ZF Technology Day 2018 in Friedrichshafen in July.
“The e.GO Mover is the first production-ready vehicle featuring ZF systems that provides an autonomous mobility concept for cities.”
ZF is presenting further examples for digitally connected technologies using an autonomous, electrically-powered delivery vehicle for package delivery. With this, the courier neither has to drive nor park – the vehicle can follow them independently from one delivery point to the next with zero emissions.
A benefit for commercial vehicles
At the IAA Commercial Vehicles show in September this year, ZF will show further use cases for its ZF ProAI supercomputer and broad set of related sensor systems that can help to increase efficiency and save costs throughout the entire logistics chain.
ZF’s CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider clearly sees the benefits for commercial vehicles when it comes to introducing autonomous systems.
“Initially, we expect to see automated driving activities more commonplace on company premises and logistics depots, in harbours or in agricultural environments as operations there tend to be more recurrent and the surroundings are not too complex.”
The technology is also expected to prevail in freight logistics and passenger transport because it can reduce operating costs and at the same time help to increase safety for all road users.

Will robots cause ‘catastrophic’ problems?

Failure to regulate artificial intelligence will result in catastrophic social and ethical problems, the Transport Workers’ Union is warning.
Widespread loss of jobs, wage polarisation and horrific road incidents, where machines are allowed to decide who dies in a crash, could unfold if the current unwillingness to consult and regulate continues.
“Economics is driving the push for artificial intelligence, not voters and not the community. There is no input into the introduction of this technology onto our roads and into our homes which is taking ethical or social issues into account. We need a debate on this issue and we need regulation,” said TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon.
Almost 40% of Australian jobs – 5 million jobs – will be redundant in 10 to 15 years, according to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia showed. A German study* recently warned about the possibility of wage polarisation due to automation eliminating middle-skilled jobs.
Meanwhile, there is concern over the programming of driverless technology to make ethical decisions. The German government has developed ethical guidelines which state that driverless cars must be programmed to avoid injury or death of people at all cost. The Singapore government is developing a voluntary governance code for the ethical use of artificial intelligence and personal data.
“Do we want a machine deciding to save the occupant of a car by ploughing into a crowd of people? Should a computer be programmed to crash into an elderly by-stander on a pavement or kill the child who has just run out onto the road? These are the issues other countries are examining and dealing with. In Australia we cannot allow wealthy companies to decide these issues for us,” Sheldon added.
Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland have made it possible for autonomous vehicles to be tested on their roads. But a recent poll shows scepticism among the public: Australians were less optimistic than average about using driverless technology, according to an Ipsos survey of 28 countries. One in six Australians say they would never use a driverless car.
* Germany – Re-imagining Work White Paper, 2017
 

Automated vehicles get the green light in Victoria

File photo.

Legislation has passed the Victorian Parliament this week that allows driverless vehicles to be trialled across the state.
Under the changes to the Road Safety Act, VicRoads will be able to grant permits to individuals or organisations wanting to conduct on road trials of automated vehicles.
The government believes this legislation will encourage national and international industry leaders to develop this emerging technology in Victoria, which will mean more jobs and opportunities for Victorians.
Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donnellan has also announced a $9 million grant program for researchers and industry, as part of the Towards Zero Road Strategy and Action Plan.
These grants will support the development of vehicles with connected and automated technology and safety features.
“Victoria is at the forefront of autonomous vehicle technology and these changes will allow our best and brightest to continue to drive transport innovation, Mr Donellan said.
“Automated vehicles will be a game-changer for Victorian roads – initially reducing and ultimately eliminating human driver error.”
Under the new laws, all driverless vehicle trials will require a human supervisor to monitor the vehicle from either inside or outside the vehicle.
Once it has been established a vehicle can drive safely, this condition may be removed to allow the vehicle to drive in automated mode in limited circumstances without a supervisor.
VicRoads acting deputy chief executive Robyn Seymour said: “We’re excited to support trials of automated vehicles, which will revolutionise the way we travel and move around our communities.”

Isuzu signs on with MEGATRANS2018

Truck manufacturer Isuzu has announced its support of multi-modal supply chain event MEGATRANS2018, joining the show as a Platinum Sponsor.
Isuzu, a market leader in the Australian transport industry for 28 consecutive years, joins key partners including the Victorian Government and the Port of Melbourne in supporting this inaugural trade show event, which takes over the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre 10-12 May, 2018.
With a focus on connected vehicles and a technology-driven display in the works for MEGATRANS2018, Isuzu is aiming to set a new benchmark in the wider supply-chain industry.
“The discussion and hype surrounding autonomous, or driverless, vehicles and technologies continue to build both overseas and here in Australia,” said Phil Taylor, Director and COO, Isuzu.
“Disruptive technologies appear to be becoming more prevalent with each new year, fundamentally changing the way the market will look at the road transport industry over the next few decades.
“There is one thing that I know for certain, whatever the technology, or the timeframe – Isuzu will ensure that Australian truck operators have access to the latest innovations in truck technology that are suitable for Australian operating conditions, driving better safety outcomes for all road users and improving air quality, productivity and the bottom line for the operator.”
Logistics & Materials Handling is an official Media Partner of MEGATRANS2018.

Rio Tinto completes Australia's first fully autonomous rail journey

Mining group Rio Tinto is a step closer to its goal of having a network of driverless trains in the Pilbara after undertaking the first fully autonomous rail journey at its Western Australian iron ore operations.
The nearly 100km pilot run was completed without a driver on board, according to Rio, making it the first fully autonomous heavy-haul train journey ever completed in Australia.
The company is aiming to fully commission the AutoHaul driverless train project by late next year.
Rio Tinto, with representatives from the National Rail Safety Regulator, monitored the journey in real time from the company’s operations centre in Perth.
The company said that it regards the pilot run from Wombat Junction to Paraburdoo as a significant step forward toward full commissioning of AutoHaul, which will depend on it meeting safety and acceptance criteria and obtaining regulatory approvals.
Chris Salisbury, CEO – Iron Ore, Rio Tinto, said the pilot run put the company firmly on track to meet its goal of operating the world’s first fully autonomous heavy-haul, long-distance rail network.
“Gains from AutoHaul are already being realised, including reduced variability and increased speed across the network, helping to reduce average cycle times,” he said.
“Rio Tinto is proud to be a leader in innovation and autonomous technology in the global mining industry, which is delivering long-term competitive advantages as we build the mines of the future. New roles are being created to manage our future operations and we are preparing our current workforce for new ways of working to ensure they remain part of our industry.”
Rio Tinto originally launched the driverless trains project in 2012, and had plans to have the program fully installed by 2015.

How will transport succeed in a ‘higher expectation’ future?

What will transport look like in the future? Will people and governments ever accept driverless B-doubles careering through city streets? Will we see flying delivery vans? Near-instant drone deliveries, or delivery by particle beam, Star Trek- style?
Change won’t be smooth. Driverless trucks might be available, but the regulators will be well behind. All of these innovations raise serious questions about safety and security, which will become political as the regulators and the public weigh up the pros and cons.
Rather than focus too heavily on what might be coming, we need to step back and consider the principles which will drive future developments.
The big picture tells us transport is often a source of great angst in the supply chain, as it’s one of business’s greatest costs. It also tells us that both B2B and B2C customers are becoming more savvy, and expecting more.
Our ability to succeed in this ‘higher expectation’ future will come down to applying timeless principles of successful delivery transport: the ability to offer personalised service, efficiently.
We need to continually ask: are we able to meet or even surpass the consumer’s expectations? Already, supply chain innovation from global behemoths such as Amazon is having a knock-on effect across many industries. We all need to put ourselves in the mindset of the ‘want-it-now’ shopper.
Consumers see innovations like next-day or half-day delivery, or parcel delivery tracking, and it becomes a standard expectation. Can same-day delivery become same-hour delivery? If consumers come to expect it, we will need to figure it out.
A key principle is that the wrong transport option fundamentally affects a product’s cost viability to market and the customer experience, both of which determine future sales. This applies to driverless vehicles, drones or standard delivery methods. If driverless trucks require a babysitter driver for safety reasons there may be some efficiency gains regarding fewer accidents and better fuel efficiency, but will there be big savings? How do we measure the performance? No matter what the method, you need a mentality to continually question and analyse to get results.
Unfortunately, many organisations fall over at the first step – not fully understanding their transport costs since many variables need to be accounted for. While technological tools are available, the knowledge to use these tools to their potential is often missing. Without this crucial starting point, it’s difficult to keep tabs on how your transport costs can be reined in and performance improved.
Greater efficiency and responsiveness is key, which means greater flexibility across the supply chain is needed. Technology plays a key role – in transport we are seeing supply chains across the board benefit from telematics and RFID technology to track deliveries. QR codes are good for inventory and protecting against lost or misplaced goods and play a big role in customer service by automatically updating customers on a parcel’s delivery status. It’s now a standard expectation among both B2B and B2C customers.
We can expect more data-driven decision-making in a quest to become more efficient. New technologies such as blockchain, a distributed ledger system, may introduce greater transparency and security for contracts.
You don’t necessarily need to be first to the market and take undue risks, but you do need a finger on the pulse to understand the changes and be open to new ways of doing things.
We can expect refinements in areas aside from technology, including more specialists in the market, more collaboration with clients, 3PL providers being more integrated and accountable, and collaboration between specialist suppliers across the supply chain.
This may include insourcing specialist teams which include back-up personnel for when you have absentees or when you need to increase resources quickly, working untraditional hours to increase delivery efficiencies, re-evaluating whether outsourcing the warehousing, transport and other supply functions is better than doing it in-house. While insourcing is nothing new, it remains underutilised by many.
With mounting pressure to be faster and more traceable, and the competitive pressure of global markets encroaching on traditional local areas, companies will increasingly avoid running an entire end-to-end service themselves. Partnering with the correct suppliers who specialise in areas of the supply chain will be just as critical to a client’s success in the future as it is now. The delivery method – whether it be a plane, drone, train, truck, driverless car or pushbike – is still inefficient unless the cornerstones such as correct processes, systems, management and KPIs are in place.
The good news is that many of the solutions which make you more efficient are becoming more accessible. Insourcing a dedicated transport team makes you more responsive, and gives you more flexibility with costs, while telematics technology is now available to everyone via smartphone, whereas previously it was only accessible to the larger freight companies.
A healthy supply chain benefits business like a healthy cardiovascular system benefits an individual. It’s inseparable from business success. Whether the crucial transport delivery happens via flying van or particle beam will be fascinating to see.

Walter Scremin, General Manager, Ontime Group.
Walter Scremin, General Manager, Ontime Group.

Walter Scremin is General Manager of national delivery transport company Ontime Group, which provides tailored, agile delivery transport solutions to a range of clients including SMEs and large listed companies.
Walter is passionate about measuring performance and leveraging technology and has overseen several technology projects including Ontime’s unique Fleet X-Ray analysis software, a telematics tracking system and smartphone app designed to track vehicles and deliveries.

Driverless vehicle technology takes centre stage

To coincide with its red-carpet presence at the CeBIT Australia conference in Sydney, the Australia and New Zealand Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) has released two key thought-leadership papers on parking and transport planning opportunities from driverless vehicle technology.
According to Rita Excell, Executive Director, ADVI, the introduction of driverless vehicles is approaching rapidly and would ultimately underpin the creation of entirely new city structure and architecture, making it critical to recognise this disruptive technology as a central element in future transport planning
“Because most vehicles typically sit idle for 96 per cent of the time it creates a lot of wasted parking spaces in the city, streets and homes,” she said. “We can expect multi-storey car parks being transformed into community spaces, on-street parking becoming a walk or cycle lane, and home garages being used as green space or extra living area instead.
“Instead of annual insurance, registration and running costs, people will be able to book a vehicle to pick them up and take them to a specific location – which means they will still have the convenience of an on-call car, without ongoing costs and parking challenges.
“We are already seeing an increasing number of people preferring mobility-as-a-service, which has seen the likes of Go Get and Car Next Door responding to commuter need for an alternative to owning your own vehicle. While the demand for mass public transit will continue, driverless vehicles offer significant cost advantages over public transport, especially for first- and last-mile services.
“The major challenge facing urban and regional transport planners is that they normally rely on age-old quantitative data sets to inform future infrastructure investment, but that fails to recognise disruptive technologies like driverless vehicles.”
The ADVI stand at the CeBIT event will allow delegates to view a state-of-the art driverless mobility pod from the UK-based RDM Group, as well as a Volvo fitted with autonomous vehicle technology, which is being used in driverless vehicle trials across the country.

Robotics to be biggest supply chain disruptor

Robotics will cause the most disruption in the supply chain in the next five years, according to a study carried out by the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville’s Global Supply Chain Institute, as first reported by Modern Materials Handling.
The study looked at the anticipated impact of five technologies on the supply chain on the next five years: 3D printing, driverless vehicles, drones, robotics and wearable technology, assessing the current and potential use of these technologies as well as the benefits and barriers to using them.
“Robotics have been around for more than 50 years, but they have become dramatically more dynamic in the last five,” said Paul Dittmann, Executive Director of the Global Supply Chain Institute and the paper’s author. “They are no longer stationary, blind, expensive and unintelligent but can work alongside people and learn as jobs change.”
3D printing was deemed to be the least viable technology in the short term, though the study acknowledged that it has the potential to eliminate the supply chain completely if costs can be reduced and usable materials expanded.
“We are at a turning point in the industry where disruptive innovation is required to meet the exponentially growing customer expectations,” said Danny Halim, Vice President – Distribution and 3PL Strategies at JDA Software, one of the sponsors of the white paper.

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