One area of the more controversial topics in autonomous vehicles is autonomous trucks. Emotions towards the subject range from excitement to fear, and predictions for their practical arrival date range from a couple months to decades.
Self-driving trucks could change the industry of long-range trucking. Currently, labor costs are huge for the monotonous job of trucking across hundreds of miles a day. Autonomous trucking could reduce labor costs and increase safety for other drivers.
There are a number of problems with the concept though. Firstly, the safety of letting an AI handle something as complex as trucking is questionable. Because of trucks’ large size, there are so many potential variables for these vehicles.
Another concern is the maintenance problem. Truckers are currently paid more if they are able to service their own vehicles, because this means more time on the road, which is more money to the trucking company. A truck without a driver would be unable to perform this type of maintenance.
For a completely autonomous truck, another problem is that of theft-prevention. As detailed by a Reddit user, truckers are currently used as theft-prevention for their cargo (this user also bring up a number of problems not addressed here). An autonomous truck would be easier to hijack or steal from with current systems, especially considering the cyber-security problem.
Finally, there is a huge ethical concern, as trucking is huge occupation in the United States. What is to be done with the truckers suddenly forced out of their jobs by automation? The average trucker does not have many skills beyond trucking and truck maintenance. What kind of employment opportunities will arise for this suddenly job-less workforce?
There are some halfway solutions, though. Daimler is working on caravanning technology, which would employ a human as a lead driver and autonomous truck drivers as followers. Many have theorized that autonomous trucks could handle the long interstate drives while humans handle city driving. Maybe a human could always be in the cab as a monitor, but only drive in certain situations, similar to the current autonomous capabilities of Teslas?
These problems will all be tackled in the coming years by various titans and newcomers to the industry. I would caution those that expect trucking to disappear as an occupation that their dream may come true, but not anytime soon.