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Report: Driverless Trucks Will Cut Costs, Millions of Jobs

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 4/27/2016 Alex Nishimoto
Mercedes Benz Actros conoy in autonomous Netherlands European Truck Platooning Challenge 2016 image 1© Provided by MotorTrend Mercedes Benz Actros conoy in autonomous Netherlands European Truck Platooning Challenge 2016 image 1

Earlier this month, six convoys of trucks from several large European truck-makers arrived in Rotterdam, Netherlands, autonomously driven from various locations in Europe. The jointly coordinated experiment was part of the European Truck Platooning Challenge, a program devised to advance autonomous trucking in Europe. The accomplishment shows the viability of automated trucks, and a new report from TechCrunch sheds light on how the technology will dramatically change the trucking industry.

Research

Currently, it costs around $4,500 to ship a full truckload from L.A. to New York. Labor makes up 75 percent of that cost, according to TechCrunch, meaning a lot of that money would be saved if we moved to driverless trucks. In addition to saving labor costs, autonomous trucks would also significantly boost efficiency. Drivers are required by law to take an 8-hour break after driving 11 hours, but an autonomous truck could drive nearly 24 hours straight. In addition, the computer can maintain the optimal speed for best fuel efficiency, whereas a driver who is paid per mile will likely drive faster. Future autonomous convoy technologies will allow trucks to draft behind the one in front to reduce wind resistance.

Much of these savings should be passed on to the consumer, lowering the prices of shipped goods. But they'll come at a price. With more than 1.6 million Americans working as truck drivers, truckers hold the most common job in 29 states. If those jobs are replaced by self-driving trucks, it would mean 1 percent of the U.S. workforce would be unemployed. But the ripple effects could be even more devastating to the American highway as we know it. Truck stops, motels, gas stations, diners, and many other businesses will struggle to stay open without a steady flow of truckers coming through.

But even if the cost savings weren't huge, the adoption of driverless trucks might have still been inevitable. TechCrunch says the average age of a commercial driver is 55, and rising every year. Most young people don't want to go into trucking, which has led analysts to project massive driver shortages in the coming years.

Regulation remains the major hurdle for autonomous trucks, but there's also the question of whether the hit to the economy would be worth the savings. A price-performance increase of 400 percent is hard to ignore, but can we afford to displace more than a million jobs?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Source: TechCrunch

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