BY TRISTAN BOVE
Elon Musk has called them the most impactful technology on the horizon. But unions are lobbying against their widespread use, citing studies showing they may kill up to 500,000 jobs.
They are autonomous trucks, which supporters pitch as the remedy to a growing demand for shipping and for greater safety on the road. If the technology becomes good enough, the logistics industry will be radically changed, with trucks operating nearly around the clock as they crisscross the country.
The number of companies racing to perfect automated trucking technology is long. Last year, Tesla revealed plans for its own autonomous truck called Semi, which relies on battery power and has a range of up to 500 miles. Meanwhile, Daimler, one of the world’s largest trucking companies, has announced a $573 million investment in self-driving trucks. And Aurora, another major player in the space, has gone so far as to create its own autonomous truck operating system.
Still, it will be years before drivers are completely absent from behind the wheel of 18-wheelers, experts tell Fortune. The technology must still be improved so it can reliably operate in extreme weather while officials must rewrite regulations that were originally created for human truck drivers.
As it stands, the U.S. government has opened the door to autonomous trucking—but only to a point. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced a $100 million plan for autonomous car research, including a $60 million grant for private companies. In March, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that the government would not stand in the way of innovation, and that there would be “meaningful developments” in autonomous vehicle policy this decade.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Steve Viscelli, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania researching automation and labor markets, told Fortune. “This is a decades-long sustained investment by the U.S. government. And so I would not bet against this technology being successful.”
Continue reading… “90% of long-haul trucking may soon be self-driving. Are you ready to share the road with an autonomous 18-wheeler?”